To say that China Cross Border Ecommerce (CBEC China) is booming is an understatement. The import and export trade is as old as mankind, but despite the Covid-pandemic, the numbers are skyrocketing!
In the past, China was a key player in sourcing goods and exporting them to the world. For example, via dropshipping or Amazon FBA. This created the nickname “world’s factory”. To give you a better understanding of the numbers, in 2020, China’s exports slightly grew to around 2.6 trillion USD.
In comparison, imports to the Middle Kingdom remain steady at approximately 2.06 trillion USD per year. Out of these imports, the trade volume of China’s cross border ecommerce (CBEC China imports) reached around 1.9 trillion USD in 2020 – an impressive 15% increase compared to the previous year. Businesses in China and worldwide are waiting in line to get a piece of this cake.
In this week’s blog article by China Gravy, we will explain everything you need to know about CBEC in China, the main platforms, how they work, and the benefits for your business. Let’s get started!
What is Cross Border Ecommerce?
Generally speaking, cross border ecommerce refers to any international sale of a product or service between two parties on an online marketplace platform. We can differentiate between:
- B2C: Trade between a business (retailer or brand) and a consumer
- B2B: Trade between two businesses, often brands or wholesalers
- C2C: Trade between two individuals (non-formal business, e.g. unlicensed Daigous)
- D2C: Direct to consumer trade
With its creation, the cross border trade aims at getting a better handle on the trade by unlicensed Daigous. In terms of logistics, Daigous and CBEC companies now import goods into a free trade zone (mostly Shanghai). From there, these are shipped to mainland China.
The product is shipped to the customer in China either directly via direct-shipping or through a warehouse in a free-trade zone. The VAT, customs fees, and delivery fees to the customer are then passed on to the customer. Sellers have to consider this when determining the final retail price, together with the marketing fee, management cost, and own profit margin.
China Cross Border Ecommerce
The CBEC China holds a specific distinction where international companies can sell their products to Chinese customers at preferential duty rates and without a license to operate a business in the country.
Most cross border trades as part of the cross border ecommerce in China are performed by companies from other Asian countries led by Japan and Korea, followed closely by the United States.
In January 2019, The Chinese Ministry of Finance introduced new regulations for cross-border purchases. The most relevant ones for CBEC in China are:
- The single-transaction amount increased from 2,000 RMB (291 USD) to 5,000 RMB (727 USD)
- The annual amount of cross border purchases increased from 20,000 RMB (2,909 USD) to 26,000 RMB (3,782 USD) per individual
- 63 new items categories were added to the positive list for purchases under the cross border ecommerce in China. These categories include sparkling wine, beer, health care products, and fitness equipment.
- The cities included in the CBEC tax-rebate were expanded from 15 to 37 cities, including Beijing and Shanghai.
- The new regulation makes it harder for Daigou to go about their business illegally
Now, there are several platforms and millions of individuals, often one-man businesses, the so-called Daigou, who sell an abundance of imported retail brands in China as part of the cross border ecommerce in China scheme.
Since 2019, these sellers need an official business license to sell their products. But let’s look at the most popular product categories first.
Popular Products: China Cross Border Ecommerce
The new-rich millennials in China are practically chasing exclusive luxury goods. High-quality usually refers to imported goods, which add a luxury touch to an item. But not only that.
As in the past, there were incidents where Chinese sellers sold counterfeit and even harmful products, foreign brands also stand for original and harmless quality. The most sought-after foreign products are:
- Cosmetics & beauty products
- Baby products (baby formula)
- Food & beverage
- Fashion & jewelry (luxury brands)
With the most internet users in the world, Chinese consumers naturally shop online for these products and rely on cross border ecommerce in China platforms for this.
Besides, the Chinese simply love social media, and in fact, often trust their peers and influencers more than official brands and regular advertisements. With the emergence of Chinese social media platforms, a perfect social ecommerce system was created. It mesmerizes users with live streaming, sponsored posts, and viral content.
Combining both social media and online shopping, so-called social commerce, is the secret of success of the most popular cross border ecommerce platforms in the Chinese market.
However, there are some obstacles to overcome and opportunities when importing goods under the cross border ecommerce in China – from direct shipping to customs clearance in China and from the 2019 CBEC regulation to tax reductions. Therefore, marketplaces have emerged as fulfillers and marketing boosters.
Retail Marketplaces: China Cross Border Ecommerce
There are several platforms for cross border ecommerce in China. The list is led by Tmall and JD.com. With 48%, 25-34-year-olds are the largest user segment. Besides, cross border online shoppers are highly educated with a high income. But we don’t want to keep the full list from you. So, without further ado, here are the main players.
1. Tmall & Tmall Global (Alibaba)
Alibaba’s Tmall is an impressive leader of successful online businesses: it is the 3rd most visited website worldwide!
Alibaba is one of the top wholesale websites in the world. It offers B2B transactions from China to the whole world. Aliexpress is Alibaba’s non-CBEC and B2C platform, offering products from China to the whole world. Another non-CBEC platform by Alibaba is TaoBao. Payment on all of Alibaba’s platforms is Alipay.
Whereas there are several trading opportunities within the Middle Kingdom, Tmall China (天猫) refers to the CBEC trade from the world to China.
Tmall Global is competitively expensive and getting your foot in the door comes with a certain risk, as Tmall may reject products that don’t fit their strategy, and you might even lose your deposit.
Since August 2019, Tmall Global offers TOF (Tmall Overseas Fulfillment) – a consignment solution that allows brands to sell a small number of products on the Tmall Global platform. It is ideal for businesses, which are new to the Chinese market to test their products and modify them to the taste of the Middle Kingdom.
The main difference between Tmall and Tmall Global is that Tmall only accepts businesses that have an offline presence in China.
2. JD Worldwide
JD first specialized in electronics and today offers a wide variety of products on JD.com B2B (China – China) and JD Worldwide B2B (Worldwide – China). Since JD’s major stakeholder is Tencent (WeChat, QQ), the JD products are displayed on WeChat when searching for products. They can be purchased via WeChat Pay.
This player also massively invests in high tech to realize drone delivery and delivery by autonomous trucks. Compared to Tmall, JD Worldwide is cheaper.
3. Kaola (Alibaba)
Kaola was originally founded by NetEase and purchased by Alibaba for 2 billion USD in 2019. It focuses on selling high-quality “western” products to middle-class Chinese consumers. Brand awareness is essential for success in the Chinese market. Therefore, non-exclusive brands are advised to set aside a budget for marketing and brand building.
VIP.com is specialized in online discount sales. Although it is not yet well-known outside of China, it is one of the world’s fastest-growing retailers.
5. RED (Xiaohongshu)
The “Little Red Book” has over 85 million monthly active users, who post and share product reviews, travel blogs, and lifestyle stories via short videos and photos.
Pinduoduo is a popular channel for group-buying deals, in which Tencent (WeChat, QQ) invested. Collective buying enjoys great popularity in China. Amazon.com is currently in the process of opening a pop-up store on Pinduoduo. With this, it is only a matter of time until collective buying arrives in Europe and America. Find out more about how Pinduoduo works.
Platform Comparison (Sales Volume): China Cross Border Ecommerce
This is the transaction share of China’s B2C online retail market platforms in the second quarter of 2021 (April – June 2021) according to Statista.
Most larger global brands have a presence on one or several of these platforms since it provides high exposure to the market and allows them to benefit from the great quality and exposure of these platforms.
This brings us to the end of the most relevant cross-border China ecommerce platforms. Now, you may think we have forgotten a key player. What about WeChat, the Chinese app for everything? Of course, this super-platform deserves a special mention! In fact, it receives a separate segment.
A WeChat Store – either connected to your webshop or using a native WeChat shop – is your own free mobile platform, that connects to the menu of an official WeChat account. You can custom-design your content, layout, and prices. In the menu of your WeChat account, you can add links to your shops – through an H5 app, a mini-program, or an external website.
The store visitors can do the quick and easy checkout via the “one-click-payment” function of WeChat Payment, as long as the shop owner implemented the WeChat gateway. And as WeChat is becoming the do-it-all super platform, more and more businesses create WeChat stores.
China Cross Border Ecommerce: What’s the Best Option for me?
There are two channels through which businesses can sell their CBEC products as B2C. Daigous also count as businesses with their individual enterprises.
- Existing Marketplaces
- Create your own marketplace (webshop)
Let’s look at both options!
1. Enter an Existing Marketplace
Cross border China ecommerce platforms allow you to sell your products in China without having to obtain a Chinese business license. The downside is that the platform fees are relatively high and there is a lot of competition. This means you will additionally need an exceptional digital marketing strategy (niche, SEO keywords, etc.) to stand out from the crowd.
No matter which third-party ecommerce site you choose for your brand, laying the foundations for product demand through forum seeding and other brand awareness tactics is key for generating early wins.
2. Create Your Own Marketplace (Webshop)
Looking at setting up your own stand-alone marketplace with a shop function may give you the most flexibility and independence. It may take some effort to adapt it to the Chinese market, including hosting in China/Hong Kong, integrating Chinese social media, removing links to blocked sites, and integrating Chinese payment systems. But the benefits are worth it. Your own WeChat store is also ideal to test new products due to the slim cost structure.
Besides, you have to take marketing into your own hands (social media, SEO, PR) to get traffic and sales in your shop. But this is really an advantage: you can steer the costs, have more flexibility, and most importantly, and avoid the high 3rd party platform costs (e.g. deposit, commissions).
How to Create Your Own WeChat Store
Connect your own mobile platform to the menu of an official WeChat account. There, you can custom-design your content, layout, and prices.
In the menu of the WeChat account, you can link to your shops, through
- an H5 app
- a mini-program
- an external website.
Since the WeChat universe is expanding at lightning speed, it offers maximum customization to position your brand as the key to unlocking the lifestyle that consumers aspire to adopt.
The social media native Millennials and GenZ shoppers show loyalty to brands that help to reinforce the personal image they wish to project. Besides, WeChat advertising and its environment offer an abundance of options to boost your brand and products.
By opening WeChat ecommerce stores, leveraging interactive mini-programs, and driving leads from popular social media platforms, brands can focus on creating demand for their products through smart brand-building strategies.
The Pros and Cons
To summarize, existing marketplace platforms as well as starting your own platform both have advantages and disadvantages. Here is the summary:
Existing marketplace platforms come with high-volume existing traffic. But they are expensive (deposit, commissions, management fees, etc.) and highly competitive (often large brands with high a marketing budget).
If you create and use your own platform to market your products in China, you will have full control and can create hybrid solutions. This is when an external webshop is converted as a mini-program. This mini-program is then linked, and no longer an external shop. This is one of China Gravy’s specialties – converting from a WooCommerce shop to a mini-program.
You will find yourself with little initial investment, low platform cost with no deposit and commission. And most importantly, you can sell anything you want from the CBEC list, without a platform regulating this for you.
On the other hand, the marketing that you have to do on your own can be time- and cost-intense. Besides, you need to manage the logistics and payment gateway by yourself. However, this is doable.
Next Steps for Your Business
Are you curious about how to leverage this seemingly endless potential of the Chinese cross-border business? Here are eight steps you can take today! If you want to save time, money, and energy, consider hiring a Chinese digital marketing agency.
- Put first things first and create a Chinese market entry strategy.
- Ensure that your products and services are on the “positive list” for China cross border ecommerce.
- Whichever platform you use, provide your products and services in the Chinese language.
- Register your trademark with a Chinese name, which is mandatory to sell cross border items. Further licenses are not necessary.
- Take advantage of the WeChat universe, its shop, social media, and marketing functions.
- Shine with influencer marketing on Chinese social media.
- Create SEO content (Baidu SEO) to lead the Chinese search engine ranks.
- Leverage Daigous, who are located abroad and sell products to China. They work similarly to influencers with a giant network to promote your brand and receive a commission for their sales.
Accelerate your business in China and unlock the potential of the booming ecommerce sector today!
China Cross Border Ecommerce: Your Launch Strategy
Based on our own experience, we recommend the following strategy to get started with China CBEC:
- Initially, for the first few months, focus your efforts on B2B with an informational website, Baidu SEO and PPC ads.
- As a next step, add a web shop and activate social media marketing to gradually shift your business focus on B2C.
- Once everything is up and running and you have built a solid fanbase, consider expanding your business activities to larger platforms like Tmall.
This brings us to the end of this article.
China Cross Border Ecommerce – The Takeaway
Congratulations! You have a good overview of the China cross border ecommerce landscape now, the most popular products, the key marketplace platforms, WeChat stores, and how to lift the potential for your business.
China Gravy is your trusted digital marketing agency in Cyprus, offering marketing advice for China and everything around digitalization in this booming market. Benefit from our integrated social media approach to increase your brand awareness, boost leads and sales. And best of all, our affordable prices won’t break your bank!