E-commerce aids Chinese brands in gaining more popularity

These platforms have played a vital role in stabilising the nation's foreign trade and economic growth amid the Covid-19 pandemic.


Soccer balls are produced for export at a factory in Nantong, Jiangsu province. [XU CONGJUN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

March 1, 2023

BEIJINGTens of thousands of vendors reach wider audience

Du Wei, co-founder of Zeblaze, a company that makes smartwatches in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, sent a new batch of these timepieces to warehouses before Spring Festival, which this year fell on Jan 22.

“We prepared 10,000 watches in advance for Chinese New Year. To my surprise, all of them sold via online marketplaces during the weeklong holiday, and our sales surged by more than 200 percent year-on-year,” Du said, adding that most of the company’s customers come from Europe, North America, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

Booming sales were also reported by Chinese home appliance giant Midea Group for its floor-cleaning robots, with orders received since the start of this year from Spain, France and Russia through AliExpress, Alibaba Group’s business-to-customer platform.

Like Zeblaze and Midea, tens of thousands of vendors based in China now sell their products globally through cross-border e-commerce platforms. These platforms have played a vital role in stabilizing the nation’s foreign trade and economic growth amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a complicated external environment.

Meanwhile, more Chinese brands are gaining popularity among overseas consumers, which experts said is an affirmation of the country’s manufacturing and supply chain capabilities. They added that as a new form of foreign trade, cross-border e-commerce ensures higher requirements for logistics, customs clearance and product quality.

Statistics from AliExpress show Chinese augmented reality goggles, projectors and trendy toys were the bestselling products during overseas promotional campaigns last year.

During the Singles Day shopping carnival in November, coffee grinders and coffee powder hammers made in China were favored by consumers from South Korea and Spain, while those in Saudi Arabia bought coffee makers made by Chinese enterprises.

AliExpress said sales of air fryers rose by 162 percent year-on-year in Spain during this period, while esports keyboards, pet feeders and camping equipment gained traction among customers in South Korea.

In addition, Chinese manufacturers of heating appliances, including electric blankets, saw impressive growth in exports to Europe last year, as the continent faced an energy crisis due to surging natural gas prices.

According to the General Administration of Customs, the import and export scale of the nation’s cross-border e-commerce reached 2.11 trillion yuan ($305.9 billion) last year, a year-on-year rise of 9.8 percent. E-commerce exports stood at 1.55 trillion yuan, up by nearly 12 percent.

A white paper released by online media outlets Sina News and Huanqiu said overseas consumers have gradually increased their awareness of and trust in Chinese companies and products, and maintained an optimistic attitude toward Chinese brands.

Alibaba.com, Alibaba’s business-to-business platform that helps facilitate foreign trade, reported that household solar energy panels, electric blankets, laser-cutting machines and goods related to the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in Qatar were the most popular products made in China among overseas consumers.

According to the platform, sales of goods produced in China related to new energy have maintained triple-digit growth for three consecutive years. In the first three quarters of last year, turnover of heating appliances produced in China rose significantly, with electric blankets seeing sales growth of nearly fivefold year-on-year.

Sales of electric bicycles, camping products, beekeeping equipment and wall-mounted charging piles for electric vehicles produced in China have risen among overseas buyers, according to the Alibaba platform.

A line forms to view fashion items at an AliExpress pop-up store in Paris in September 2020. [GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP]

Important role

Zhang Kuo, president of Alibaba.com, highlighted the resilience of China’s foreign trade merchants and the increasingly important role the country has played in ensuring the stability of global industrial and supply chains.

Cui Lili, director of Shanghai University of Finance and Economics’ Institute of E-commerce, said the popularity in overseas markets of products made in China shows these cost-effective commodities have gained wide recognition and raised brand reputation abroad in recent years.

“Chinese consumers usually tended to buy imported and foreign-branded products, but nowadays, China’s major online shopping festivals have become more international, exerting greater influence on overseas shoppers who are increasingly willing to buy Chinese brands via cross-border e-commerce platforms,” Cui said.

Faced with emerging opportunities, Cui said Chinese companies should make full use of cross-border e-commerce platforms to quickly grasp demand from overseas markets, learn more about relevant laws, regulations and quality standards in these countries, and adjust supply chains to make products that meet local requirements.

Amazon Global Selling, which helps Chinese merchants sell their products abroad, said the nation’s vendors are paying more attention to building brands and expanding their presence in overseas markets, given the rapid growth of cross-border e-commerce.

The latest data from Amazon show that Chinese vendors sold billions of commodities to global consumers through the company’s 18 overseas marketplaces last year. The number of Chinese sellers using Amazon’s logistics services rose by more than 20 percent year-on-year, with their sales revenue achieving double-digit growth.

Amazon reported that the number of Chinese brand owners using its services rose by nearly three times in the past three years, and their turnover posted double-digit growth last year.

Cindy Tai, Amazon vice-president and head of Amazon Global Selling Asia, said in an earlier interview that China has a strong manufacturing base and competitive edge in supply chains, coupled with favorable policy support and the innovative spirit of the nation’s entrepreneurs.

She said cross-border e-commerce is an unstoppable trend that is helping drive the transformation from “Made in China” to “Brands from China”. With the nation’s advantages in those areas, “we have full confidence in the prospects for cross-border e-commerce,” Tai added.

Amazon will provide Chinese vendors with comprehensive and reliable logistics, inventory and supply chain solutions based on its global logistics capabilities and network advantages to help them achieve long-term sustainable growth and enhance global operational efficiency, she said.

It will also further improve new selection solutions, upgrade big data analytical tools for sellers, speed up localization efforts, and launch training centers to help vendors comprehensively improve their cross-border e-commerce skills, Tai said.

A worker irons clothing for export at a factory in Zhuji, Zhejiang province. [XU YI/XINHUA]

Broader push

China is making solid efforts to boost development of new forms and models of foreign trade as part of a broader push to promote high-quality development.

In November, approval was granted for the establishment of comprehensive pilot zones for cross-border e-commerce in a total of 33 cities and regions in the latest attempt to boost foreign trade growth. This is the seventh batch of such pilot areas, which now total 165 nationwide.

The Ministry of Commerce said it will work with other departments to introduce measures to support logistics enterprises, cross-border e-commerce platforms and vendors to build overseas warehouses.

Zhang Zhouping, a senior analyst of business-to-business and cross-border activities at the Internet Economy Institute, a domestic consultancy, said, “Cross-border e-commerce has witnessed rapid growth during the COVID-19 pandemic to become an important driving force for stabilizing China’s foreign trade.”

This will have a profound impact on the transformation and upgrading of foreign trade in China, Zhang said, adding that Chinese enterprises have increasingly attached great importance to cross-border e-commerce, as it plays an important role in helping traditional foreign trade enterprises build new brands.

In addition, Chinese online retailers are stepping up efforts to expand their global footprint amid a broader drive to cultivate new users and diversify revenue sources.

Temu, which is owned by PDD Holdings, the parent company of Chinese e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, has gained popularity among consumers in the United States for its wide selection of merchandise. Since launching in the US in September, it has offered clothing, electronic products, jewelry, shoes, handbags, cosmetics and baby products at competitive prices.

According to analytics company Sensor Tower, as of Jan 31, Temu had been downloaded nearly 20 million times globally, with shoppers from North America accounting for more than 90 percent of the total.

In September, Pinduoduo announced plans to invest 10 billion yuan to help China’s manufacturing enterprises widen their global reach. The first phase of the initiative will help 100 Chinese brands go global and also support 10,000 manufacturers to connect directly with overseas markets.

In addition, Chinese fast-fashion online retailer Shein plans to open two more distribution centers in the US, which could help shorten delivery times to its customers by three to four days.

In April, the company opened its first distribution center in the US in Whitestone, Indiana. The additional warehouses will greatly improve delivery efficiency, as it currently takes 10 to 15 days for Shein customers to receive their orders.

Chen Tao, an analyst at internet consultancy Analysys in Beijing, said, “Chinese e-commerce platforms are accelerating their layout in overseas markets to seek new sources of revenue, as growth in the domestic e-commerce sector is slowing.”

He said Chinese enterprises should step up localization efforts in overseas markets and comply with local laws and regulations to ensure their brands are reputable.

Lyu Gang, a researcher at the State Council Development Research Center, said: “Cross-border e-commerce platforms have become an efficient and convenient way for traditional manufacturing enterprises to expand their overseas footprint. They can help micro, small and medium-sized enterprises open up new markets.”

He added that more efforts should be made to help formulate international digital trade rules and increase policy support for these enterprises in fields such as taxation, customs clearance, digital transformation and rights protection in overseas markets.

Workers load goods at a Cainiao Network warehouse in Spain. [MENG DINGBO/XINHUA]

Rungnapa Nuymuang, a livestreaming host, promotes Chinese products at online platform Lazada in Bangkok, capital of Thailand. [ZHAO JINGNAN/CHINA NEWS SERVICE]

Parcels from China are scanned at a delivery center in Bangkok in September 2020. [ZHAO JINGNAN/CHINA NEWS SERVICE]

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