The rising incomes and increasingly global tastes of Chinese consumers have made the Chinese e-commerce market one of the fastest growing online markets in the world. As VP of Global Sales and Services for Alibaba.com, Brian Wong is one of the best authorities on export opportunities via e-commerce platforms in the region. Due to the success of the C2C platform Taobao and the B2C platform Tmall, Alibaba now runs the platforms for half of all e-commerce transactions in China.
In a recent interview with Practical eCommerce, Wong emphasized the variety of ways American exporters can reach Chinese consumers. Taobao provides small- and medium-sized enterprises with an opportunity to sell products in lower quantity without as much competitive pressure. TMall has more potential customers but also more competition. Before such a choice is made, the most important question for exporters is how to make a product more appealing to Chinese consumers. According to Wong, the natural appeal of imported products provide American exporters a leg up in the Chinese e-commerce market:
“One of the things that the Chinese consumer is interested in is imported products from countries like the U.S. They want a high quality, innovative, unique product that is different from what they have already in China. And so as an e-retailer, there is a market opportunity there.”
Wong cautions that having knowledge of how to operate in the Chinese market and how it differs from domestic markets is essential to effectively export through e-commerce platforms like Taobao and TMall. Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms in China are in Chinese, so an American business would have to find a way around the language barrier, either by hiring a translator or developing language skills. Wong advises that an American business should differentiate their product from Chinese competitors in terms of either style or quality to further emphasize the appeal of imported goods to the Chinese consumer. One test for a product, Wong says, is to gauge its success in the American market:
“You have to be good at what you’re doing first. It always helps to start in your own market where you know the market but you’re trying to sell a new product. So, to anyone who has to make that choice, what I would say first is, get your own house in order and build a successful business here in the U.S. with a product that you think has value and sells well. You can source lots of these products from Alibaba and specifically from China. However, once that happens, if you feel the market is saturated or even if you feel like the competition in the U.S. is at a point where you’re not going to get that much more benefit from investing in that business, then it’s a good time to look at new markets. China is definitely one of those. Then what you have to do is build that capability to sell overseas.”
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