Brexit, the fear of a declining domestic market and Amazon’s impending move into Australia are just some of the factors driving China market entry to the top of retailers’ wishlists.

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Hong Kong and mainland China. As the market there is moving so quickly, I thought it was worth providing some up-to-date market statistics.

The dominant Tmall marketplace should still be the first channel for any brand wanting reach and exposure in China, with around 56% of the total market. (around 22% of the market) should also be considered, along with a direct online offer in China, to reinforce the brand proposition.

Margins have been a challenge because marketplaces have generally been discount-driven. However, trustworthiness and customer service are becoming more important

Historically, direct to consumer has been more of a brand play than a significant revenue driver, but is now a serious opportunity.

And WeChat is the game-changer for that. Nearly 72% of all online sales in China are via mobile, according to eMarketer.

Margins have been a challenge because marketplaces have generally been discount-driven. However, trustworthiness and customer service are becoming more important.

52% of Chinese consumers say they are loyal to companies with excellent customer support, compared with 44% who are swayed by special promotions, according to recent KPMG research.

And the Chinese government has cracked down on counterfeit products to prop up local market confidence in buying products domestically.

Online peaks

There are several key trading peaks in online. Singles’ Day is the best-known, and the single biggest online trading day in China, generating $17.8bn (£14.3bn) in sales in 2016 (bigger than Brazil’s projected ecommerce sales for the whole of 2016).

82% of the sales were made on a mobile device, and 27% of sales were with international brands.

Double 12 Day is another big ecommerce day, and the autumn moon festival in mid-September is an important holiday for small gift-giving.

Propensity to buy online is higher in China than the West. 49% of Chinese consumers have purchased products online at least two to three times in the past 12 months, compared with 31% in Western Europe and 32% in the US.

In contrast to the West, food and grocery is one of the most popular categories of products purchased online. Women’s apparel, electronics and men’s apparel all also have relatively high online penetration rates.


Chinese consumers are heavily influenced by their peers and key opinion leaders – 22.2% have bought a product a friend owns, compared with 8.2% in the UK.

They are three times more likely than UK consumers to share a review or opinion about an online purchase.

Payment barriers are coming down too. Chinese consumers are less concerned about cash on delivery, with only 9.7% preferring this method in 2016 compared with 22.1% in 2015.

Credit cards are the top payment method at 78.8%, followed by Alipay at 72.2%. WeChat at 34.6% is the leading mobile payment method.

Despite the challenges, the sheer scale of the market makes it worthwhile to test the opportunity. One of our clients sold more than a million pairs of trainers on Singles’ Day alone.

When 70% of shoppers buy online because they trust global brands more than smaller or local brands, there may never have been a better time for UK retailers to add China to their roadmap.