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GUEST OPINION Four lessons UK retailers can learn from China about mobile commerce

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Ahead of Singles Day on 11 November, Don Zhao, Co-founder of Azoya, offers four key takeaways that retailers can implement today to make mobile more integrated into the shopping experience in the UK

Mobile commerce in China is at an all-time high. Estimates for 2016 predict it will account for 55% of online sales and it looks set to become the most important channel for all retail sales over the next few years. Dominated by commerce giant Alibaba, the mcommerce market is fiercely competitive and retailers wishing to endure in this environment have had to create mobile products that glitter – the younger generation of Chinese consumers shopping on their mobiles are digitally savvy, fickle and expect a high standard of service.

WeChat has provided the ultimate gateway for retailers to reach consumers via smartphones. A combination of online browser, messaging app and social media platform all under one virtual roof, ‘super app’ WeChat is life for 700 million users accessing over 10 million internal apps (known as official accounts). It’s one of the most important multichannel portals for businesses – both in China and overseas.

While the WeChat framework doesn’t exist in the UK just yet, the tactics employed to enhance user experience, achieve sales and convert customers into loyal buyers in China via mobile can be adopted by UK retailers using available technologies and channels.

  1. Personalise the shopping experience with an app

A mobile-friendly site is imperative, but an app will be even more beneficial. It personalises the shopping experience and streamlines the path to purchase with its layers of functionality and engagement, which are proven to drive conversion and revenue.

In China, traditional marketing channels are gradually losing their ability to attract new users, and standalone retailer apps no longer have the same clout as an account on WeChat. The same goes for retailer’s own mobile sites – WeChat can reach a far larger target audience.

A lesson for retailers in listening to the market and placing investment where customers spend their time – 94% of users log in to WeChat every day.

  1. Care about content: engage and entertain your customer

Social media and mobile marketing strategies need to be dynamic, engaging and, most of all, relevant. Posting audio and video content, news and promotions are proven methods of adding value to a brand and building positive relationships with customers, but it’s also important to keep exploring new, interactive channels that appeal to the demanding consumer.

In China, endorsement by online influencers is creating new marketing opportunities for sellers. Online beauty retailer Feelunique not only has its own official WeChat account but has cooperated with other WeChat influencers whose followers are interested in cosmetic and personal care, and regularly share Feelunique’s content and product details. Feelunique can benefit many times over by providing a better mobile purchase experience; converting customers from other sources into followers, engaging them with useful content and stimulating sales directly. In the UK, forming partnerships with influential bloggers offers the same potential.

Peer-to-peer recommendation carries weight and sharing new purchases on social media is second nature to the Chinese consumer. Encourage sharing by UK consumers on social media by offering incentives such as samples or coupons. It will increase trust towards the retailer and helps to increase conversion rates.

Caption: Incentivised sharing on WeChat. If the user shares a new purchase a certain number of times, they will receive a gift – in this instance a teddy bear – from the retailer.

It’s crucial to speak your customer’s language. For example, Chinese consumers have nicknames for popular branded cosmetic products they refer to when discussing beauty issues within online communities. To help customers find the right product through search engines or on-site search, online retailers add these nicknames alongside the actual product name.

  1. Make payment painless

Mobile shopping requires a convenient payment system. Nobody wants to spend ages on a tiny keyboard typing in their card details each time they purchase an item. Since 2010, the People’s Bank of China has issued over 200 licences to non-financial institutions to provide third-party payment services and declared a national mobile payment standard. This has led to explosive growth in the Chinese mobile payments market – increasing by almost 25% in the past 12 months.

There are plenty of convenient mobile payment solutions available in the UK, which retailers should embrace. Apple Pay and Google Wallet are leading the way and it is will be interesting to see how well Android Pay, which launched in the UK in May 2016 takes off. If retailers want to encourage mobile commerce, it’s essential they offer one-touch payment options.

The next step is to integrate mobile commerce with offline. Many retailer apps on WeChat include a barcode scanner function, allowing users to quickly scan the label on a physical product instore and compare prices or choose to purchase on their phone. An idea that UK retailers can easily implement.

  1. Don’t dismiss older technology

QR codes are ubiquitous in China – one of the main reasons for their success is that QR codes contain URLs and Mandarin is fiddly to type. When WeChat made a QR code scanner a built-in feature it brought the technology to millions of users, and is proving a particularly useful tool for marketing incentives such as discounts and VIP cards, both offline and online. Purchases can be paid for on their phone via QR code.

The QR code may have been ahead of its time when it was first introduced in the UK in 2011, and the subsequent years represent a lifetime in the mobile commerce development world. A whole new generation of people shopping primarily on their mobiles, plus more people willing to do so have emerged, so the value of the QR code should be re-examined.

China has a highly developed and integrated approach to mcommerce, but the UK has inherent advantages Chinese retailers can only envy. Mature multichannel infrastructure is pioneering while geography is on your side in terms of logistics.

It’s all about streamlining the experience.

With China’s infamous Singles Day on 11 November upon us, and retailers going all out to attract sales, my guess is that the percentage of purchases made by mobile will continue to break records.

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