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Not many companies can say they are growing faster than the country’s expansion but Jing Dong Mall or JD.com, one of China’s most well known online retailers, is growing at almost 40% year on year. The B2C company can also add the following achievements under its belt: Fortune Global 500 member, biggest competitor to Alibaba’s Tmall and last year, acquired Wal-Mart’s Chinese division, Yihaodian.

Louis Li, the Deputy General Manager of JD Worldwide, wants to let the world know that China’s market is still maturing and open for business.

It’s hard for industry businesses to forget about China when the superpower has overtaken the US in total online spend at $752 billion in 2016, see fig below, and expected to grow 20% annually by 2020.

What are some important factors brands and retailers need to consider before selling to consumers in China’s red ocean? eIQ speaks to Louis about his views at Last Mile Fulfillment Asia.

Be the little guy

“Even if you’re big overseas, don’t assume the Chinese will know who you are and what you offer,” comments Louis.

“Be prepared to do what the smaller brands have to do to become familiar.”

This means dedicating resources to consumer education about what your business can offer and rigorous content marketing on the right platforms. This also means legwork to build a trustable name from scratch no matter how big you are elsewhere.

The channels are different

“Unlike the West, the Chinese don’t use Google, Youtube or Facebook,” comments Louis. “Companies will need to find the right tools to do marketing.”

Some of China’s most popular platforms are Mobile QQ and Tencent’s WeChat, the country’s largest chatting app that also facilitates payments, taxi-hailing, news services, food delivery and much more.

The platform boasts over 800 million users and has welcomed notable brands such as Coach, Chanel, Burberry and Apple onboard who share promotions, support followers and run sales campaigns.

JD and Tencent formed a strategic partnership in May 2016 to share big data with brands to reach more niche customers versus general sweeping TV or newspaper ads.

Source: eMarketer

Through a WeChat campaign during Chinese New Year last year, JD was able to increase Japanese skincare SK-II brand followers by 20,000.

Knowledgeable customer service reps

It’s understood that strong customer support is vital to any successful business. Louis suggests automating as much of the general inquiries as possible, for example a chatbot answering common questions such as “where can I track my package? How can I get a refund?“

A few other pointers to keep in mind when serving the Chinese consumer:

  • 73% of consumers would expand their purchases with a merchant by 10% if the merchant delivered superior customer experience
  • If they already provided their telephone number and credit card information online, they do not expect to have to provide the same information again
  • Chinese consumers like to share online and expect to be heard, the reply of the company can determine their repurchase rate
  • 86% of consumers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience

*Source: Deloitte’s “Delivering Superior Customer Experience in China”

Invest heavily or drown in the red ocean

Ecommerce in China is extremely competitive, much more than other markets, so companies should be ready to allocate resources to a team and to logistics to ensure products are delivered quickly to the end customer – especially the Chinese consumer who already has expectations.

“If you promise people to deliver same day, people will more likely buy,” says Louis. “Our people will literally cross rivers and climb mountains to get the package to the end customer.”

In 2016, JD fulfilled a total of 1.6 billion orders through its own extensive logistics network: 256 warehouses covering 5.6 million m2 and 6,906 delivery and pickup stations in China.

China’s cross-border future

By 2020, a quarter of the country’s population will be shopping either directly on foreign-based sites or through third parties. Online consumption already accounted for 13.5% of all retail spending in the country in 2016 and consumers in low-tier cities are outspending those in high-tier cities online.

The demand for goods exists. The demand for goods in Southeast Asia also exists and is strong. Not only do Chinese consumers want Thai consumer goods such as fresh fruits, the amount of trade between China and Cambodia has taken off since 2012.

Source: Bloomberg

The more online retailers, the better growth for China’s economy and its citizens is how Louis sees it.

“Ecommerce helps consumers,” says Louis. “The farmer in China’s outer provinces would never have been able to get their hands on an iPhone 7 until now.”

Forget about China? I doubt anyone will any time soon.

By: Cynthia Luo

JD.com, Alibaba’s ecommerce rival in China, is targeting profitability after reporting its Q2 2016 earnings, reports Tech Crunch. The earnings were on target with expectations, but saw revenue growth continue to flatten.

JD.com was made a Fortune 500 company in June, and is posting rising revenues. According to Tech Crunch, JD.com’s growth rate is slowing in line with recent media headlines that suggests China’s economy is slowing down.

 The company’s rate of growth is slowing in line with reports in the media that Chinese consumers are spending less as the economy slows, but more consumers are moving online.

This is impacting companies across the board and placing a larger emphasis on overseas growth. JD.com is currently courting global brands with intentions to reach Chinese consumers through its online platform.

JD.com announced net revenue of $9.8 bn for the three-month period, down to 42% y-o-y from 47.3% last quarter.

The company is predicting that the next quarter will continue to see slowing growth.

JD.com, which has over 100,000 merchants on its platform, and a 79% order rate from mobile, has stated that it was making a push to become profitable. It posted a net loss of $19.9 million for Q2, which is a big improvement from the $76.8 million loss in the previous year.

GMV, the total amount of sales on its platform grew 47% to reach $24.1 bn in Q2 2016.

JD Q2 Earnings, JD.com Q2 Report 2016

Source: JD.com

Although up from $19 billion in the previous quarter, the rate of growth is slowing. GMV in Q1 was up 55% annually, compared to the reported 47% growth for this quarter.

“With our reputation for high-quality online shopping and same-day delivery already cemented with Chinese consumers, we are taking steps to further extend that advantage through efforts like our new strategic alliance with Walmart and Chinese online supermarket Yihaodian,” said Richard Liu, JD.com CEO.

JD.com’s move to acquire Yihaodian (Walmart’s Chinese ecommerce business) in June will boost the company’s grocery and delivery business.

A version of this appeared in Tech Crunch on Aug 10. Read the full version here or find the official JD report here.

Wal-Mart Yihaodian Fails in China, B2C bloodbath

(Hint: It’s a red ocean bloodbath), Image source: FactsRider

Its demise was inevitable. Since its 2008 launch, Wal-Mart’s online grocery business Yihaodian struggled to gain traction in China in the red sea of deep pocketed local B2C ecommerce players. Finally, Yihaodian has thrown in the towel and being sold to ecommerce Goliath JD.Com. The recently announced deal means JD will take over Yihaodian online and Wal-Mart will acquire a 5% stake in JD.com.

The Chinese branch of Sam’s Club, an American chain of membership-only retail warehouse clubs owned and operated by Walmart, will open a flagship store on JD.com, and the two companies will link their supply chains, broadening the range of imported goods. Wal-Mart, No. 8 in the China 500, will receive approximately 145 million newly issued Class A shares of JD.com in the transaction. So why and how did Wal-Mart’s seemingly successful Yihaodian fail so quickly in China?

 

Wal-Mart Yihaodian Fails in China Acquired by JD.com

Wal-Mart Yihaodian fails in China because the B2C market in China is a bloodbath. Smaller or global players will be hard-pressed to succeed there.

Wal-Mart’s Yihaodian fails in China, but why?

Walmart’s China strategy sought to establish itself as a source of high-quality food products after a series of safety issues in China, but failed because it could not adapt to local culture and buying patterns. It could also not compete with the economies of scale that giants JD and Alibaba wield. In TechCrunch last year, Sheji Ho and I predicted this when writing Forget China, There’s a Gold Rush in Southeast Asian Ecommerce Sphere

“In the Chinese ecommerce race the market giants have taken too large a lead for too long in China.

“Smaller” players such as Amazon, Rakuten, and Neiman Marcus entering the market struggle to compete because of fewer domestic resources, a lack of understanding of the Chinese market, as well as slower execution. Recent examples include Macys and Neiman Marcus shutting down their China ecommerce initiatives and Amazon throwing in the towel and opening a store on Tmall, China’s largest B2C marketplace.

With Tmall and JD owning close to three quarters of the Chinese B2C ecommerce market, there just isn’t much room for both “smaller” global and local players like Yihaodian, Suning, Amazon and VIPShop to compete. They cannot tap into the economies of scale enjoyed by the market leaders. B2C ecommerce is a winner-takes-all market where the rich get even richer.”

With nearly 6,000 delivery and pickup stations in approximately  2,500 counties and districts across China compared to Yihaodian’s mere 250 hubs, it sadly did not have a strong chance.

Cross-border ecommerce isn’t the answer either

Nonetheless, the company seemed optimistic last year. At a logistics conference in Shanghai, Yihaodian senior manager Yang Shenling said with confidence that ‘cross-border is the last blue ocean for Chinese ecommerce.’

The inbound cross-border market is estimated to be 155 billion RMB ($25 billion) and is expected to grow to a whopping 1 trillion RMB ($164 billion) by the end of 2018 according to The China e-Business Research Center cited by Shenling. But when we asked Yihaodian how big its new cross-border business was in terms of percentage of total company sales it turned out to be only 2% and projected to go up to 10% over the next five years.

Ten percent is still a very small number and getting there would be an uphill battle as the quality and safety of domestic products will no doubt increase over the next few years thanks to increased government pressure and regulation. As quality improves, there will be no need for Chinese consumers to look abroad.

In many ways, cross-border ecommerce in China can be seen as a desperate move to cope with the fact that the domestic market is reaching saturation. And despite all the hype, it is still a very small business compared to the Chinese domestic ecommerce market.

Lucky for them, JD.com has been doubling down on winning the food category. Last August, it bought a 10% stake in Yonghui, a rival that specializes in fresh food. From the Yihaodian acquisition, the company stands to gain credibility of a global brand in its efforts to be seen as a more trusted food retailer in the rightfully suspicious Chinese food ecommerce landscape.

Businesses are realizing that China is a Venus Flytrap – plenty of allure but crushing once inside.

This is just the beginning as global players are increasingly realizing that China is a Venus Flytrap – plenty of allure but crushed once inside. They instead start to look longingly south towards the real blue ocean- Southeast Asia. Expect China’s B2C ecommerce bloodbath to get a lot murkier as global and smaller ecommerce players learn the Amazon and Yihaodian China lesson the hard way.

By Felicia Moursalien

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