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EDITORIAL China shows the world what ecommerce could look like

Singles’ Day, while now a truly international event, naturally focusses attention on China and its immense ecommerce market – and this year it didn’t disappoint, racking up £42bn in sales in little more than 24 hours.

While the stats about Singles’ Day continue to come in, as outlined here, what this early peak event shows the rest of the world is not just how powerful, big and hungry for goods the Chinese market is, but is also offers a snap shot into what the western ecommerce market of tomorrow may look like.

Singles’ Day has managed to catapult Alibaba into the shopping minds of people all over the world, with the UK alone spending around £1.4bn on Singles’ Day items. That’s a lot of people shopping on a Chinese website.

This is the first lesson that ‘Western’ ecommerce needs to learn: ecommerce is increasingly a borderless phenomenon for many shoppers and China is going to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of this.

This isn’t news, per se. Many of the items we buy on Amazon, eBay, Facebook and other marketplaces come from China. I, personally, am no longer surprised by how much of the stuff I buy – at very reasonable prices, I may add – comes (quite rapidly!) from China.

I am not alone in this. As Singles’ Day 2020 has proved, many other UK shoppers – as well as those across France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy – are all happily buying from China.

It isn’t just bargains and deals that are driving this either. Much of Singles’ Day’s increase in revenue – up £12bn compared to last year – has been driven by luxury shopping. With coronavirus keeping wealthy shoppers from flying to Milan or Paris, London or New York for the big-name luxury fashion brands, shoppers have turned to Alibaba and AliExpress to get their hands on the goods.

And it isn’t just the Chinese market that has sought out this items on Singles’ Day, traffic to these brands has come from a worldwide audience.

Where Singles’ Day also points is how shoppers use and interact with the platform. As uncovered in Retail X’s China Report – published in Singles’ Day, no less – Chinese ecommerce is very different to that in the west.

For starters, far more people shop using mobile. With nearly half its population aged between 24 and45, it is also an increasingly technology-driven economy, resulting in a strong mobile commerce penetration. As Retail X points out, 60% of the population has access to the web, with 62% doing so via desktop and 37% by mobile – that’s 788 million regular mobile users in 2020.

But it is how they use mobile to shop that is interesting. China has pioneered the use of instant messaging as a shopping platform, pushing people to buy via platforms such as WeChat.

Chinese consumers are also very much into live video shopping, with websites regularly doing live video feeds of QVC-style sales programmes. These have gained huge traction in the country and this Singles’ Day has seen them come to the fore.

Alibaba also runs entertainment and games on the site to both lure in and amuse shoppers, making their visit to the site around Singles’ Day a fully-fledged experience. It makes shoppers come in and it makes them sticky.

Together, live video and gaming – so called “shoppertainment” or even “entertainmerce” – are reshaping how Chinese people shop. Singles’ Day 2020 2020 will also have been many overseas shoppers’ first experience of these offerings – and it could well be something that many of them want to see here in the UK and elsewhere.

With more people than ever now shopping online due to the pandemic and its seemingly endless round of lockdowns, many retailers are going to need to look at new ways to attract and retain customers on their site. Price isn’t enough. Nor will be delivery, which is increasingly being commoditised. Perhaps it is going to be ‘shoppertainment’ that holds the key?


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