Last year, Chinese consumers spent more money online than UK and US consumers combined.
With China now the clear leader in global ecommerce, a new, hyper-engaged consumer has emerged, and UK retailers can learn from the way these consumers engage with brands in China’s constantly evolving retail environment.
China, the world’s second-largest economy, was slower in building its physical retail landscape than the West.
This, coupled with a digital revolution that coincided with huge growth in disposable income and consumption, has meant that the country is now streets ahead when it comes to online shopping.
The dramatic rise in online shopping has been fuelled by demanding, tech-savvy consumers, drawn from an ever-expanding Chinese middle-class who are hungry for high-quality products.
Overseas brands are especially appealing, with shoppers viewing popular heritage British brands as being of higher quality and representing luxury.
A consumer who is so switched-on to the latest technology and global trends, in a market where the plates are continually shifting, has resulted in the need for brands to be able to react instantly to the latest demands, finding new ways to meet their customers whenever and wherever they want to be met.
Like their Chinese counterparts, British retailers need to closely follow the ways in which their customers use technology to purchase products.
In China, this is done principally through smartphones, on e-marketplaces rather than through individual brand websites.
Smartphone users in China are predicted to reach almost 670 million by 2018.
This constant engagement online is increasingly becoming a defining feature of the Western retail experience as well – mobile commerce has gone global, and consumers won’t wait around for brands who are unable to deliver the seamless shopping experiences they’ve come to expect.
”There has never been a better time to learn from the increasingly innovative retail landscape in China and to embrace the opportunities it presents”
David Lloyd, Alibaba
Many Chinese consumers leapfrogged the era of desktop computers, moving straight to smartphones.
As mobile natives, they crave far more than just basic transactions when shopping; they value the brand experience almost as much as the products they’re buying.
This has incentivised retailers to innovate: they look for new ways to create personal, immersive and seamless brand experiences, merging the online and offline worlds by integrating their digital and bricks and mortar operations.
There are several examples of how the drive towards an experiential retail environment is building.
Since 2015, Alibaba has launched twenty Hema supermarkets (of no relation to the Dutch retailer), offering a new retail experience that allows shoppers to shop however they choose – whether they want to select their food in-store for 30 minute home delivery, or to shop in the app and have their food freshly cooked to eat in the store.
Meanwhile, during Alibaba’s 2016 11.11 Global Shopping Festival Singles Day, our ‘Catch the Tmall Cat’ game used augmented reality to drive an incredible 70 million people to make in-store purchases, all whilst playing the game on the app.
During the same event, millions of customers engaged (and shopped) with international brands through live streaming and virtual reality.
The impact of this technology on the UK market could be profound, with some predicting that augmented reality alone could add £1bn to the retail sector.
The size of China’s e-commerce market is clear to all.
As well as acknowledging this scale, UK retailers should also seek to understand how such growth has come about, and the innovation that lies at the heart of it.
The Chinese consumer has been the catalyst for the ‘New Retail’ concept that brands are embracing.
The concept is driving technological innovation, healthy competition, enhanced brand experiences and thriving online marketplaces that exist in the country.
With truly global trade closer than ever before, there has never been a better time to learn from the increasingly innovative retail landscape in China and to embrace the opportunities it presents.
David Lloyd is Alibaba’s managing director for the UK, Ireland and the Nordics