How to Start Your eCommerce Business in China

China has become the leading emerging market for many Western brands and retailers. For many businesses, the growing spending power of high-income consumers and the middle class in China has become a compelling growth engine. For luxury brands, China is already a huge growth market, and many Western companies have had a brand presence in China for many years, albeit often with counterfeit products and even whole counterfeit stores. But as the economy grows in China and consumer thirst for foreign brands increases, companies will be compelled to consider an online direct-to-consumer presence due in-part to the following factors:

  • The scope of the Chinese market is immense. Not only is China one of the largest in the world by area, it already had more than 171 cities with more than 1 million inhabitants as of the country’s last census, which has likely increased markedly in the last 10 years. While launching physical stores in core markets such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen may be feasible, reaching even just the top-tier cities is extremely challenging operationally, particularly for a Western brand or retailer. eCommerce presents an important way to reach consumers across the entire country while complementing any decision to invest in core physical retail operations.
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Understanding China: The Opportunities And Challenges

China represents a huge opportunity for most organizations — the nation has a population of 1.35 billion people, consumer spend has gone up progressively in the past few years, and Forrester expects 268 million Chinese consumers to buy online by 2014. And, we are committed to providing our clients with the data and analysis required to be successful in the country. In fact, as part of our Technographics product, we have been investigating the impact of technology on consumer behavior in the Asia Pacific region since 2006.1

Recently, I collaborated with my colleague Sam Yanling Jaddou on a report called “Understanding China: The Opportunities And Challenges” that will help marketing and strategy professionals understand the uniqueness of the Chinese market, as well as key consumer trends.

Some highlights from the report, which is based on a survey of more than 3,600 metropolitan Chinese consumers2:

  • Chinese consumers are very receptive to new trends. They not only show high interest in new technologies like cloud services, Internet-connected TV, and tablets, but the uptake of these devices is already higher in China than in the US and Europe. However, because of their relative high price, new technologies are mainly bought by high-income Chinese.
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2012 Huawei Global Analyst Summit: Consumer Device Strategy Will Indirectly Benefit Core Business

Huawei hosted about 160 industry and financial analysts at its ninth annual analyst summit in Shenzhen, China in April 2012. The main takeaway for its consumer devices business was that consumer devices complete the end-to-end pitch for Huawei. Huawei showcased its growing capabilities across the wireless industry value chain. Most notably, Huawei made a foray into the smart devices domain with its own brand of smartphones and tablets. In 2011, Huawei shipped 20 million smartphones and 60 million mobile broadband devices like dongles. The smartphone market is already overcrowded with heavyweights such as Apple, Samsung, Nokia, and Motorola; thus, it might seem that Huawei may not be able to make a very profitable business from selling these devices. However, we believe that this move will bring indirect benefits to Huawei’s core Carrier Network division in the following two ways:

  • It spurs the uptake of smart mobile devices. Among all companies, Huawei is best suited to leverage manufacturing capabilities in its homeland, China, to mass-produce smart devices. Moreover, as it can manufacture processors in-house through its HiSilicon subsidiary, it can control and reduce the overall price of these devices. As price is a major buying criterion for consumers in regions like China, India, and the Southeast Asian countries, Huawei will be able to expedite the uptake of devices in these countries. Subsequently, the demand for data will increase and telecom operators in these countries will need to upgrade or roll out new technologies and networks (HSPA+, TD-LTE, FDD-LTE, dual-mode networks, etc.). This is where Huawei will benefit, as it will be able to position itself as an end-to-end supplier for telecom operators including hardware, professional and managed services, security solutions, servers, and storage.
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