There are a lot of people out there who think that doing business in China is impossible. They couldn’t be more wrong. While it is admittedly more difficult to make sales in China than in some other countries, it’s certainly not impossible. With the right approach and some perseverance, you can sell your products or services and start making money on the Chinese market.
China is the second-largest consumer market in the world, which creates a huge opportunity for foreign companies. Chinese consumers are willing to nurture new relationships with worldwide brands. The middle-income group in China is constantly growing, so it’s right about time you leverage the potential in the Chinese market.
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In this blog post, we will answer the question of how to sell to China and cover the 10 most popular goods and product categories on the Chinese market, as well as discuss some of the creative marketing solutions that will help your brand succeed among other domestic and international brands. If you’d like to get more insights regarding your specific industry or if you have some questions, contact us to discuss your project.
Selling International products in China
The rapid urbanization combined with a growing and evolving Chinese economy sets the stage for both great opportunities and great threats to Western brands. While some jobs are being outsourced from the U.S. and Europe, they can indeed also leverage China’s new-found buying power by offering to sell on the Chinese consumer market.
Basically, the types of products that you will decide to sell in China should be interesting to Chinese buyers in order to get their attention and engage with them. Nowadays agricultural products, food & beverage, baby and maternity goods, wellness products, and luxury fashion are trending in the Chinese eCommerce market.
What products can I sell in the Chinese market?
Chinese middle and upper-middle class is growing and they are more and more hungry for Western brands. They are increasingly wealthy and willing to spend money in online stores. Additionally, the Chinese government is supportive of e-commerce and has invested heavily in infrastructure and logistic improvements. The time to enter China market is now, but which product types will sell well?
Top 10 product categories among Chinese consumers
There are a lot of products that are winning the domestic market but not all of them will be suitable for foreign brands, as some products are reserved for domestic brands. Here are 10 main categories of goods that many Western companies can easily start selling online on Tmall Global or any other Chinese marketplace in order to succeed:
A few years back, Chinese people were buying clothes mostly from local shops or fake markets and China was known for very cheap fashion. Nowadays all the big clothing chains like H&M, Zara, Gucci, Massimo Dutti, etc. are present in the Chinese market and people are more aware of the quality and willing to pay more to have good clothes from well-known brands.
What is most important in terms of fashion is that online retail is becoming more important than offline one, with Chinese consumers, especially younger generations, purchasing goods mostly online. This is why it’s important to invest in online advertising, presence on social media, or at least one Chinese e-commerce platform like Tmall Global or VIP Shop.
When it comes to clothes, there are a few categories that are very popular at the moment. One of them is definitely sportswear, as many Chinese people from first-tier cities started to live active lives. Maternity clothes are also trending, but one of the major trends in 2023 is second-hand clothes and sustainable fashion. Chinese people are slowly growing out of excessive spending and are turning more and more toward ecological fashion choices.
Here is one of our luxury fashion case studies:
For similar reasons, imported shoe brands are also popular in China. Chinese netizens are changing their shopping habits and Chinese business culture, pushing the trend of sports shoes, especially after Winter Olympics. Although high heels and elegant leather shoes are still popular among the Chinese, especially older generations, younger consumers are choosing sneakers way more than their parents, driving online sales.
The jewelry market in China is one of the fastest-growing sectors when it comes to luxury goods. Jewelry was present in Chinese culture since the beginning, as it was used during rituals and religious events.
According to a Statista report, the Chinese jewelry market is expected to reach a value of $865 billion by 2026, up from $116 billion in 2016. It’s the third largest investment category in the country, just after real estate and automobiles.
Metal jewelry, especially gold is the type most favored by the Chinese, followed by diamonds. But young consumers are gaining interest in silver and unique jewelry, made from aluminum, wood, plastic, and so on.
Apart from women’s jewelry, which is driving the growth of this sector due to the fact that women started earning more and therefore buying more jewelry for themselves, jewelry for kids and men are also gaining popularity, presenting huge opportunities for international brands.
Here is one of our luxury jewelry case studies:
Makeup and skincare products
Beauty and makeup are major products of the most popular categories for Chinese shoppers, especially those using Tmall. In fact, China is the second-largest cosmetics market in the world and one of the most promising ones in terms of cosmetics, as it offers a wider range of consumers than markets of the West.
Although cosmetics and makeup are usually reserved for women, in China men are equally interested in taking care of their looks as women are.
One of the biggest segments of the cosmetic market is skincare, as Chinese people have always taken a lot of care of their skin and pursuit having it the whitest possible. China is also being influenced by South Korea, with its skincare products and techniques known around the world.
What is interesting about the Asian market is that men are also using makeup on daily basis, which is a huge opportunity for foreign brands but it’s also a challenge, as makeup for men is not something we are used to in the West.
Here is one of our cosmetic case studies:
As you can see above, men are advertising makeup products just like women do and any foreign company wanting to sell products in the Chinese market needs to adapt its marketing strategy to this trend.
Chinese people are becoming more and more aware of the importance of a healthy diet and a sporty lifestyle. Apart from turning to sports, they start eating more vegetables and fruits, trying to change their diets to more plant-based versions. The vegan movement got to China and young generations of Chinese from big cities are also more eager to change their eating habits.
The Chinese government is also very supportive of plant-based meats, as the country is fighting a big problem of obesity, especially among children. Vegetarian and vegan places are becoming more and more popular, and so do instant healthy dishes, smoothies, and frozen veggies.
Foreign businesses wanting to sell products from food and beverage in China should consider the growing trend for a healthy diet. Additionally, they have a big chance to succeed, as Chinese consumers don’t trust local food producers, due to many food scandals that happened in recent years.
There’s also a growing demand for seafood in China, both because of the increasing health concerns over local Chinese seafood and western access to some types of seafood that can’t be found in China.
Food supplements and vitamins
Apart from trying to eat healthily, as a part of the healthy movement lifestyle trend, the Chinese are also beginning to buy more vitamins and supplements. Although Traditional Chinese Medicine is still very popular and valued in Chinese culture, young people are gaining interest in overseas vitamins and health supplements.
The most popular categories are weight-control supplements and vitamins for good skin, as skincare plays an important job in China’s daily life.
Here is one of our vitamins case studies:
Packaged healthy foods
You can also appeal to Chinese consumers with healthy foods that are a bit easier to ship. Think packaged food items that include healthy ingredients like dried fruit and whole grains. Chinese consumers, especially young people, are more interested in food trends. Sometimes they can’t get these trendy food items from local Chinese sellers, or, as we mentioned earlier, they don’t trust them.
A few years back, a typical Chinese consumer interested in buying alcohol for some occasion, would most likely visit the favorite Chinese online marketplace or other online store and bought Baijiu, a local strong alcohol. But nowadays, with Western trends flooding the market, young Chinese alcohol enthusiasts start to purchase other alcohols, especially imported wines from international brands through China’s cross-border e-commerce platforms.
There are more and more international businesses looking for Chinese distributors that will help them sell wine on the Chinese market, as the demand is growing fast, and changing local and business cultures.
Here is one of our wine case studies:
Baby products are another of the most popular product categories among Chinese shoppers. And baby food is a huge product within that niche. Gerber, for example, has gained a lot of success by expanding its offerings into the Chinese market and introducing healthy food for the growing number of babies in China.
Moms also want to make sure they have the best possible products when it comes to taking care of their new babies. So companies that provide breastfeeding accessories and other products from this category can appeal to new parents looking to get the very best products for their growing families.
In addition, baby accessories like bottles, rattles, and playsets can also be interesting for those family-oriented consumers who are willing to pay more to get the best possible products for their kids.
As we mentioned earlier, Chinese people are becoming more and more interested in sports and healthy lifestyles, increasing the demand for healthy foods, plant-based meat, supplements, sports shoes, and of course, sports equipment.
This category can range from outdoor gear to equipment for specific sports or workout activities. These areas aren’t really developed from a brand standpoint in China, so there’s a great opportunity for other brands and resellers to take the lead in this sector and sell products to the new Chinese sports enthusiasts.
Gadgets and consumer electronics
Electronics is definitely the category of products that will never go out of fashion in China. This tech-savvy society loves to be up to date with all the newest mobile devices and gadgets on the market and technology is a big topic in China.
This category might be hard for foreign brands, as there are a lot of local companies doing a great job on the market, changing the technology and business cultures of Chinese people. But if you sell something very unique on a world scale, you sure have a huge market full of technology lovers in front of you.
How to sell your products to Chinese customers?
In order to successfully sell your products in China, you’ll have to make some adjustments to the way you’re used to doing business. The Chinese market is different than any other in the world and it might be challenging for companies that are not used to Chinese search engines, marketplaces, social media platforms, or regulations. Here are our tips for all international brands that want to sell in China;
Chinese website is a must if you want to be competitive among Chinese companies
China is the most connected country in the world, so the first thing to do if you want to reach Chinese customers is to create a website localized for this market. The website needs to be in Chinese and you need to take care of search engine optimization to rank high in Baidu, otherwise, no one will visit your own website, but rather another local business that does its online marketing better.
Having a Chinese website won’t only give you more visibility but will also prove that you are reliable as a brand. It is important to know that your Chinese Website should be hosted in Hong Kong or Singapore for speed access. In fact, it’s always good in terms of SEO to be hosted in Asia. Prepare a customer service available 24/7, able to answer all the customer’s questions.
Build brand awareness with Chinese social networks
The rise of Chinese social networks such as Weibo and WeChat facilitated person-to-person connections. Social networks are the best place to start if you have a moderate budget. Social networks won’t generate direct sales (although there are options to sell products there as well), but they will help you build e-reputation and branding on the Chinese market.
We will present you the three most popular Chinese social media platforms at the moment; Wechat, Weibo, and Little Red Book.
WeChat is the most popular super-app in China, with 1.26 billion monthly active users. Wechat allows companies to start their own public accounts, where they can share news and insights in form of something similar to our newsletters.
Apart from WeChat Official Accounts, there are other features, like Wechat mini-programs, where companies can build their own stores within the platform and pay using one of the most popular online payment platforms in China, Wechat Pay.
Users can subscribe to and view the brand’s accounts both directly on the accounts and in “WeChat Moments.” (a feature similar to Facebook’s “Newsfeed”). Recently Wechat also introduced WeChat Channels, which is a short-videos mini-app inside WeChat, that allows users to post short videos, just like on Tik Tok.
Weibo is a popular Chinese microblogging site. It was launched in 2009 by Sina Corporation and has since become one of the most popular social media platforms in China.
Weibo allows users to post short-form text and images, and also provides features such as live streaming, video hosting, and Follow Function similar to Twitter. Weibo is often seen as a key platform for public opinion formation and political discourse in China, given its large user base and unique features compared to other social media sites.
Weibo is a great platform to reach new customers in China. Although you can’t have an online store there, you can direct traffic from your Weibo account to e-commerce platforms like JD or Tmall Global, where you sell your products.
Sell in China with the help of Chinese influencers
KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) are Chinese influencers with big follower bases and huge influential power, that have accounts on China’s biggest social media platforms. As Chinese people spend a lot of their time scrolling on their mobile devices, it’s easier to influence them through their favorite KOL than other types of advertisement.
It is currently the top choice for luxury brands in China that create advertisements in a variety of different media formats. KOL ads allow companies or brands to post advertisements on the official accounts of KOLs.
The price range is huge because there is no set price and each Key Opinion Leader is free to decide the cost of advertising on their account. Generally, they determine their pricing based on the quality, price, and type of products brands would like them to endorse.
A portion of the advertising fee paid to celebrities is shared with the specific platforms, thus KOLs tend to charge higher marketing costs to maintain their profits. The key to success with these advertisements is finding the right KOL for your product and your budget.
Sell in China: find your customers on Chinese e-commerce platforms
Most Chinese users will go directly to Alibaba’s properties, Tmall, Tmall Global, and Taobao, in order to buy things. The marketplaces themselves have cross-border offerings for foreign companies. However, these are often costly and foreign companies have to go through a demanding selection process (like acquiring a Chinese phone number, commercial ICP license, Chinese business license, or Chinese bank account).
Companies that are already appealing to Chinese customers will find it easier to get listed on a Chinese online marketplace. For the others, they might be fighting an uphill battle.
Pinduoduo now is the second-largest e-commerce platform in China in terms of the number of users and the number of orders. It has pioneered several new trends including social e-commerce, team purchase, and consumer-to-manufacturer (C2M) that have revolutionized the online shopping in China. JD in China is popular and has a good reputation for its efficient logistic system and product assurance.
Other growing players like Little Red Book (小红书) are sharing similar characteristics with Tmall cross-border or JingDong. Using cross-border marketplaces can be an extremely expensive strategy (expect 1 million USD to get a significant measure of success). However, for big players with an existing brand name and Chinese business license, they can be a good strategy to pick in order to sell in China.
Tips For E-commerce Success in China
Here are some important rules to remember if you want to sell online in China:
- Presence on established e-commerce platforms should be part of your strategy to reach a large portion of the market who rarely shop elsewhere. The biggest player, Tmall, accounts for 45.1% of online B2C sales. You can expect big sales from those platforms, especially during any big online shopping day, like 11.11 or Chinese Valentine’s.
- Social Media such as WeChat, Weibo, Little Red Book, or Douyin (Chinese Tik Tok) are tied to online shopping and should also be a key pillar in your digital marketing strategy. 85% of consumers frequently use social media to share their online shopping experiences and 55% have participated in a discussion about a foreign brand.
- Customer Service is important for Chinese customers who often chat or call before making online purchases. It’s always good to get someone to respond to queries when the Chinese are online shopping 24h/7.
- Online Payments are not like in most western markets where credit cards are widespread. In China, you have to offer trusted Alipay or WeChat (you can attach your foreign bank account there).
- A Chinese website is not only imperative for online sales but also for offline sales. 37.6% of Chinese consumers regularly increase their brand awareness through brand websites and a further 47.5% claimed official websites increased their purchase intent; much more than traditional channels like TV, radio, and newspapers.
The e-commerce tools and platforms in China are different, and the underlying method of selling online is essentially the same. It comes down to having a quality product with an established brand. Because of the e-commerce war in China between Alibaba (owner of Tmall.com) and Tencent (owner of Wechat and investor in JD.com), you have to know if the product that you are selling is right for each platform. Some advice:
- If you need to have social media to help push it, then WeChat would be the place to go.
- If you have a product that is discovered by people going to a marketplace and searching, Tmall.com is a better place.
- If you are planning to do more social media marketing to sell your product, and that would involve Wechat marketing, then JD is your go-to.
Selling in China: Use Tmall B2D
From a business perspective, taking products into China is a massive task for any foreign company. China is a big and diverse country and it should be viewed as many markets.
Using an experienced Chinese distributor platform such as Tmal B2D is the best way for international companies to sell their product in China. And from a strictly legal perspective, distribution relationships between a foreign and Chinese company are fairly straightforward. Distribution contracts with Chinese companies can have stark and important differences.
Contact Gentlemen Marketing Agency to start selling your products to Chinese consumers
Gentlemen E-commerce Agency knows the digital in China. We have an immense amount of experience in Chinese social network management & viral strategy. There are many ways to sell your products online in China. We set up Stores and run smart and innovative Digital Marketing Campaigns in China.
Contact us now to discover which solution fits your business best!