Any company looking to up its e-commerce game in China this year needs to adapt to the changing landscape. The industry structure has transformed, with new players like Douyin and Pinduoduo shifting towards mature e-commerce models and WeChat Mini Programs breaking e-commerce transaction volume records. COVID-19 and shifting consumer behavior caused online retail consumption to surge to 27% of total retail consumption in 2022, up 2.5% from the previous year.
The new “Big Five” (Alibaba, JD, Pinduoduo, Douyin, WeChat) competitive landscape emerged rapidly. Below are some insights from a 650-page 2023 China Mega Report by ChoZan about the changing e-commerce landscape in the country.
The new e-commerce landscape in China
China’s e-commerce landscape is rapidly evolving with the emergence of the new “Big Five” players – Taobao, JD.com, Douyin/Kuaishou, Pinduoduo, and WeChat. Each platform has its own unique characteristics and strategies to attract and retain customers.
- Taobao, owned by Alibaba, has achieved full coverage of product categories, with a focus on clothing and beauty products. It has been introducing external anchors, including popular Douyin influencers, to boost live-streaming e-commerce sales. Taobao has also been expanding into industries with low penetration rates such as fresh products and automobiles while accelerating new product innovation.
- JD.com, on the other hand, has returned to its low-price strategy, rushing into the “100 billion yuan subsidy” war, targeting Pinduoduo, with the aim of winning users with low prices. JD.com’s core categories remain home appliances and 3C products, but it has been increasing its investment in fashion and beauty categories.
- Douyin/Kuaishou, both originally focused on live-streaming e-commerce, has now transformed into a comprehensive interest-based e-commerce platform with the addition of digital shelf e-commerce. Digital shelf e-commerce refers to the online merchandising and retailing of products in a way that replicates the experience of browsing physical store shelves. Douyin is more suitable for selling new and unique products such as clothing, underwear, and smart home appliances and is the main platform for brand promotion and new product launches.
- Pinduoduo’s long-term strategy is focused on the agricultural sector, and the brand strategy is divided into two directions – attracting mature brands through investment and upgrading factories, and establishing their own brands through white-label or farm brands. The platform has achieved rapid growth through digital electronics and will focus on clothing and agricultural product categories in the future.
- WeChat, owned by Tencent, has entered the high-quality content ecosystem competition in short video through Video Accounts, utilising social/private traffic to boost e-commerce. WeChat encourages high-quality, interesting, and useful video content, and connects advertising promotions with creator monetization needs. Its ecosystem of official accounts, mini programs, and enterprise WeChat can be integrated with video accounts, promoting repeat purchases. WeChat’s video live-streaming e-commerce primarily focuses on consumer goods such as clothing, food, and cosmetics, with an average order value exceeding 200 yuan.
Consumers plan to continue to spend more on the top five e-commerce platforms
KPMG’s 2022 year-end survey revealed that consumers intend to increase their spending on the Big Five platforms due to their expanded product options and enhanced shopping experiences. About 60% of consumers plan to boost their consumption on Douyin, while Pinduoduo ranks as the top choice for low-income groups.
Consumers’ willingness to spend is based on several sources. They are more rational spenders today, but purpose-driven marketing is indeed effective for them since consumers’ concern for their health and the environment is high. Additionally, convenience is another factor crucial for brands to connect with their target audience. On top of that, the changing social habits and increasingly in-depth services mean brands need to be flexible in social platforms and offerings to attract more consumers.
Top 5 ways brands can respond to the changing e-commerce landscape in China in 2023
- Adopting an overall e-commerce strategy and repositioning flagship stores on Douyin and Pinduoduo
E-commerce platforms need to adopt a comprehensive layout and reposition their flagship stores on Douyin and Pinduoduo. Douyin is focusing on developing its digital shelf e-commerce, while Pinduoduo is leveraging its advantage in high-frequency consumer goods categories to become a comprehensive platform that meets diverse needs. For brands, as the digital shelf e-commerce landscape becomes evenly matched, Douyin/Pinduoduo flagship stores will play an equally important role as their Tmall/JD flagship stores.
- Building a stronger cross-platform synergy and seizing the opportunity to enhance bargaining power with e-commerce platforms
As e-commerce platforms become increasingly mature, the overlap of their consumer groups will inevitably continue to increase, making it more difficult to expand user increment. However, it is a good opportunity for brands to increase their bargaining chip with e-commerce platforms in terms of traffic, product promotion, and consumer data transparency. Stronger cross-platform collaboration between brand and e-commerce platforms is worth exploring on both sides, especially in category differentiation, pricing, and promotion.
- Reducing the reliance on livestream e-commerce influencers and strengthening content co-creation
The role of e-commerce live streaming, especially influencer live streaming, in “transactions” will be further weakened. Most influencers may find that selling standard or common products are losing their appeal to the public. Influencer live streaming will reach a critical crossroads, and influencers will need to attract consumers through better content. Currently, “selling-only” influencers who lack content will lose their competitiveness and gradually be phased out. Patterns may emerge where common goods are sold more through digital shelf e-commerce and influencers will focus on more niche products with strong digital content potential like trendy goods.
4. Developing innovative supply chain solutions
Innovative supply chain solutions such as direct sourcing and supply chain financing can help brands reduce costs and improve efficiency. Brands need to optimize their organizational structure, develop cross-platform e-commerce capabilities, accumulate universal key capabilities to support multi-platform development, and lay a foundation for other e-commerce models with future development potential, such as instant retail.
- Improving consumer experience through data analytics and personalized marketing
Brands need to use data analytics and personalized marketing to improve the consumer experience. It can help brands better understand consumer behavior and preferences, and provide tailored products and services to meet their needs. With the convergence of platform models, the profit levels of brand flagship stores on various platforms are expected to gradually converge. In order to improve efficiency, brands need to optimize their organizational structure, develop cross-platform e-commerce capabilities, accumulate universal key capabilities to support multi-platform development, and lay a foundation for other e-commerce models with future development potential, such as instant retail.
To succeed in 2023, brands must adapt to emerging e-commerce platforms and changing trends. New players are continuing to emerge and grab a share of the existing market. Each platform emphasizes different aspects of marketing, including product pricing, content, and product categories. Brands need to understand these nuances and tailor their e-commerce strategies accordingly to effectively engage with their target consumers and drive sales.
Before establishing a presence on e-commerce platforms, it is important to understand the target consumer group and their profiles.