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The Digital Frontier: Western Commerce Tackles Chinese Markets

Much like the rest of the world, Chinese ecommerce is becoming increasingly mobile. It is important now, more than ever, for newcomers to the market to fine-tune their digital content strategy. This is particularly relevant to western brands looking to catch their big break with Chinese audiences, as we have recently witnessed by the frosty reception toward Airbnb’s latest launch, ‘Aibiying’. This article will explore why it’s so important for brands to do their research in order for their communications and branding to engage with new languages and cultures in the right way.

From ecommerce to mcommerce

As mobile devices trump the traditional desktop for ecommerce transactions across the world, it comes as no surprise that mobile sales now account for around half of all ecommerce in the country. By the end of 2019, eMarketer predicts that mobile users in China will spend almost $1.5 on mobile ecommerce.

Mcommerce and social media go hand in hand, so the recent growth in mobile commerce has inevitably led to brands employing social media networks to sell their product offerings. For example, a McKinsey report has revealed that WeChat purchases alone doubled in 2016. The transaction process stems from a range of places on the social platform, from official brand accounts and user generated content to links to other apps where the user can complete the purchase.

So, why is this important? Jack Ma (CEO of Alibaba) has pledged to bring one million jobs to the USA by opening the floodgates to online trade from small and medium-sized American businesses. But, this newfound trade will encounter obstacles, such as language barriers and a culture acclimatization process, on their path to generating revenue in pastures new. It is now paramount for brands seeking to enter the Chinese market to focus on their digital and social media content.

Bridging western content with new audiences

Yoola, a leading US media, and video distribution company, has announced their intention to bridge western content producers and Chinese audiences. This follows a series of deals with Chinese social media networks, such as Weibo, Youku-Tudou, and Tencent. The aim of the game is to adapt western content to localized Chinese audiences.

Yoola is one of the largest YouTube multi-channel networks and manages more than 72,000 channels, which together accumulate over 7 billion monthly news. Yoola focuses on translating, editing and adapting content to ensure that it is well-received by audiences overseas. To highlight the importance of this, one need only cast an eye back to haircare giant Clairol’s blunder in calling a curling iron ‘Mist Stick’ in Germany, failing to realise that ‘mist’ is German slang for manure. These deals will see Yoola handle and promote content from influencers like First Media, So Yummy, Slivki Show and Room Factory.

What does this mean for China’s ecommerce? Chinese microblogging site Weibo has recently boasted a 42% growth in its advertising and marketing revenues related to video and live streaming services. This potent combination of social media and video content is clearly something that brands entering the market need to master.

How western brands can compete in new markets

Airbnb recently launched its new expansion into the Chinese market with ‘Aibiying’. However, this launch was subject to much criticism and is an example to us of exactly how careful brands must be to not miscalculate their debut to a new audience. According to the company, the new name was intended to mean ‘to welcome each other with love’, though Chinese users commented that the name is awkward to pronounce and uses unusual character combinations. Needless to say, Airbnb is now brainstorming a new name to appease its customers.

Here are a few points that new brands should consider before making their maiden voyage into Chinese markets:

  • Thorough market analysis is necessary to develop an in-depth understanding of market growth rates, potential demand, competitors and barriers to entry. By doing this, you will enable yourself to plan your finances for the future and for any curve-balls that may come your way


  • Customer research is key. In order to understand any new audiences, customer profiling is important. Cultures, interests and buyer personas vary vastly from nation to nation. If you want your content and products to be received well, you must do the legwork to ensure that your brand’s UX and communications are what your customers want. This guide is an excellent source for further reading on the art of customer profiling


  • Ask yourself this: do you need to create an entirely new brand and website for your new target market? If you are a smaller player, consider using an ecommerce store creator such as com, which integrates with apps like Langify to translate your store into multiple languages. This will avoid any translational mishaps while opening your store up to international customers in a cost-effective way


  • Digital content must be adapted to suit your new audience. It’s best not to be a maverick here – you can learn a lot about what your new target audience wants by doing your research and seeing how local brands are operating. Many nations, such as China, have very localised communities and dialects. There will be no one-size-fits-all strategy if you wish for your brand to operate across the country as a whole. Employing a content creator and distributor is a great way to make an impact and ensure that your marketing strategy, videos, and social feeds are getting the right messages across, to the right people, and through the right channels


It is certainly an exciting time for new entrants into China’s ecommerce market. However, it will require a lot of hard graft and research for any smaller players to compete with the likes of Alibaba and Amazon. A clear, multi-channel content strategy that incorporates social media and takes into account the intricacies of language and cultural differences is certainly a good way to go.

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