There are 1.1 billion Chinese online shoppers using mobile shopping apps in 2022, a big rise from the registered 824.1 million in 2021. A penetration rate is equivalent to 78.5% of the total Chinese population. With such growth, the competition is obviously becoming tougher and tougher each year. Newcomers are fighting for a piece of cake but nonetheless, there has been a steady stream of new entrants on the market resulting in constant evolution in the Chinese e-commerce environment.
Also, it’s important for foreign companies entering the Chinese market to take their time in choosing which Chinese marketplace they want to settle in. Therefore, we’ll try to cover here the prime selling points, focuses, and different specializations of the largest China shopping apps. We hope to make this article the perfect guide to lead you in your choice of the best China E-commerce platform for your business.
A quick review of the top 5 China online shopping sites in China:
- Taobao & Tmall: undisputed leaders of the Chinese e-commerce market
- Pinduoduo: When group buying meets social commerce
- JD.com: Luxury goods, Top-Notch Logistic and more
- WeChat: WeChat Stores are threatening the market leaders
- Xiaohongshu: Content-driven platform
If you have already settled on a Chinese eCommerce app, and are looking for tips to create a merchant account or increase your sale, check out our China eCommerce Guide. You’ll find more information on eCommerce requirements for China as well as tips to succeed as a brand in the country.
Top 5 China’s online shopping sites and eCommerce apps
The huge development of the smartphone market led to a sharp increase in the popularity of mobile shopping apps, which has, later on, driven the growth of China’s eCommerce. Chinese shopping apps are nowadays the most popular way to access online shopping. Fast and convenient, it’s the perfect match with a fast-growing environment and busy lifestyle.
According to China Internet Watch, over 80% of Chinese online sales were generated from China’s shopping apps, and this trend is expected to continue in the future.
The Chinese E-commerce market continues on its explosive growth, but we can’t help noticing a slowdown in this evolution. With an increase in the competition level, the landscape is under constant innovation. However, following the new laws affecting the market since the beginning of 2019, platforms will be facing new challenges and administrative burdens.
1. Taobao and Tmall from Alibaba Group: the undisputed leaders of the Chinese e-commerce
Although Taobao and Tmall are two separate shopping apps that have different purposes, we will put them together here in this comparison, as they have a lot of similarities and both are owned by Alibaba Group.
Taobao is the biggest Chinese e-commerce website that operates on a C2C business model, which means that both individuals and merchants can sell their products on the platform. Taobao is one of the largest e-commerce websites and one of the top 10 most visited websites in the world (according to Alexa).
It has far over 800 million monthly active users, more than 8 million stores, over 1 billion product listings, and accounts for nearly 60% of the total e-commerce sales on the mainland.
Since it has been created in 2003, the Alibaba-backed app remains the most preferred shopping app in China and continues to operate as the market leader and trendsetter in the Chinese e-commerce market.
Taobao is THE Chinese online shopping app. Any person in China can register to the platform and start doing business while selling products to a massive online market. Whenever someone in China wants to purchase a product, they usually check it on Taobao first, as it’s the biggest of all Chinese shopping apps and has billions of products available.
And with such a business model and opportunities, there’s no surprise about the huge range of products and services available on the platform. You can find on Taobao anything you may think about, and even more. It’s beyond imagination. A dominant company that owns its success to advanced logistics providers, strong incentives for both purchasers and sellers, and a trendsetter for Chinese E-commerce.
Chinese 11/11 festival introduced by Alibaba Group
In 2009 Alibaba came up with the idea of creating its own shopping holiday, called 11/11 or ‘the singles day’, called ‘the Chinese Black Friday’ by Westerners. During the event, brands offer promotions of up to 90%. Over the years, the festival grew into the biggest shopping event in China and millions of brands and Chinese e-commerce sites participate in the event.
Nowadays, even foreign brands that usually don’t participate in third-party shopping events, like Apple, offer promotions on this day. In 2021, Alibaba’s Double 11 shopping festival achieved a new record of 84.54 billion dollars in gross merchandise volume. The event is called by many the ‘E-commerce miracle’ and it’s one of the milestones in Alibaba’s success.
Is it possible for foreign companies to sell on Taobao:
Unfortunately, Taobao is a fully local Chinese online shopping website, and only domestic Chinese buyers and merchants can register on the platform. To be able to sell products to over a billion people on the app, you would need to start a China business entity. Although it seems complicated and impossible, we can help you through the process.
Tmall: The Premium experience in China Ecommerce
Although similar to Taobao, Tmall is more focused on selling branded goods with a B2C business model. In fact, it’s currently China’s biggest B2C platform. Its brands are more trustworthy than Taobao, and buyers can buy products directly from businesses rather than individual sellers. This way, they can be more sure that they are buying original products with good quality and not counterfeits, which are very common on Taobao.
Tmall was founded in 2008 and since then, it climbed up to the position of a leader in the B2C market. Tmall Global ranks first with 37.7% of the market share of cross-border import retail e-commerce in China in Q1 2022. It has over 500 million monthly users and the numbers are constantly growing.
Tmall has two versions: the domestic one and T-mall Global
But it’s important to notice that getting on Tmall Global can be extremely difficult without being directly invited by Tmall Global itself. Especially if you don’t have any reputation in China.
Companies with an overseas business license of domestic Chinese business operations can set up a Tmall store. And among the top 5 shopping apps, Tmall is the one that could be compared the most to a shopping mall. brands can run their business like a “flagship store”, which is customizable and therefore allow brands to maintain their image and showcase their values.
To start selling on Tmall, it’s required to work with a Tmall Partner that will take care of the registration process. We are proud to announce that GMA is an official Tmall Partner, so you can trust us when it comes to the best service on setting up your store on Tmall.
But please beware of the fact that Tmall is one of the most expensive Chinese online marketplaces, far more than other e-commerce platforms. A Tmall Flagship store costs between 50,000 RMB and 100,000 RMB, and the marketplace between 100,000 RMB and 150,000 RMB. In terms of technical services, you will have to pay between 30,000 RMB and 60,000 RMB per year. Additionally, Tmall counts sales commission of 0.5% to even 10% depending on the type of products you sell.
Here are our Tmall services:
2. Pinduoduo: When group buying meets social commerce
Since its launch in 2015, Pinduoduo has experienced explosive growth. In just seven years, it managed to become the 2nd most popular Chinese shopping app. In fact, it’s the fastest-growing experience in the history of the Chinese internet. Even its Chinese name 拼多多 is a sign of success. It literally means “to combine a lot of purchases”.
Pinduoduo is different from other China’s shopping apps in its primary features which are based on group buying. The more people buy a product, the cheaper it gets. But of course, it means for users to share the products with others in hopes of getting cheaper products. They can share products they want to buy on social media platforms or in Pinduoduo, making it easier to find other interested Chinese consumers.
Pinduoduo gained huge popularity especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, as people were forming groups in their neighborhood to buy products in bulk, as in some cases it was the only option to get some products, that were constantly bought out.
Furthermore, they use limited-time offers and regular flash sales every day to boost the customer return rate. Setting up this type of limitation encourages impulsive buying behavior and makes the customers’ decision process shorter.
Integration of WeChat payment, which is alone the biggest social media app in China also attributed to Pinduoduo’s success. Today, Pinduoduo also offers many more features, like Pinduoduo Wallet, which is an integrated payment method that makes the entire shopping process even more efficient. Pinduoduo also takes part in third-party shopping festivals, carrying online discounted sales and its own sales to boost the penetration rate on the market.
A word-of-mouth business generates huge amounts of sales through users posting and sharing product information. Organic content generated by the customer themselves revolutionizes the market and makes Pinduoduo the most unique of China’s online shopping sites.
What is more, Pinduoduo is cheaper than Alibaba, which is also one of the reasons that the platform is growing fast, as more and more merchants chose this option instead of the leader.
Here are Pinduoduo fees:
To sum up, Pinduoduo is a very popular app in China, especially among 2nd and 3rd tier cities with lower income and consumption power. Its users are looking for deals, so it may not be the platform to sell premium products, but it’s definitely a unique business model that led the app to secure its place among the top Chinese shopping apps.
Also known as JingDong, the company started with a focus on direct sales of electronic products in the 90s’. But their business started to really grow only after being online, with more and more categories of products coming up. Today, JD.com is the second-largest B2C Chinese e-commerce marketplace (right after Tmall), with a 20.1% market share.
The company is a secure provider of domestic products but also, goods from all around the world. With the use of a simple “button”, customers can get access to global brands including the ones not physically represented in the country. Not many merchants from abroad are aware that JD also started its sub-platform, JD Worldwide, which offers overseas companies the opportunity to sell its products to Chinese consumers.
JD.com and its nationwide logistics network offer both same-day and next-day delivery systems. Which makes the company the only China E-commerce platform to control every part of its supply chain.
618 shopping festival
Have you heard of the 6/18? 618 is another shopping festival, the second most popular after Alibaba’s Double 11. Based on the same model as Taobao’s double eleven, it’s JD’s shopping holiday which is celebrated during the first 18 days of June. This shopping event turns out to be the second-largest China Ecommerce holiday right behind double eleven over the last few years.
The company is currently developing its business empire at a worldwide level while bringing more overseas brands into the Chinese market such as Swiss, luxury watch brands ORIS. TISSOT, TITONI, MOSCHINO, and others have also confirmed their partnership with JD.
JD.com is the ideal shopping app in China for any luxury buyers looking for security in their purchasing experience and exposure to overseas brands. What is interesting to know is that JD signed a partnership with Walmart as managing all the Chinese e-commerce business of the American retail company, in exchange for a 5% equity share.
4. Xiaohongshu: User-generated content-driven e-commerce social media app
Created by Miranda Qu and Charlwin Mao, Xiaohongshu also called the “Little Red Book” or RED, is a social e-commerce app often compared to a mix of Western Instagram and Pinterest. As of 2022, it has over 200 million active users and the numbers are constantly growing, as, alongside with Douyin, the Chinese Tik Tok, is perceived the most trendy app in China.
With the focus on beauty and fashion, the platform offers people the opportunity to post and share shopping tips, product reviews, and lifestyle stories. The social commerce app started as a lifestyle social media platform for women to give advice and shopping recommendations.
Targeting authentic information sharing, the platform turns out to be a trusted source of advice and recommendations for its users (mostly female). It’s one of the best mobile apps for building e-reputation and branding through user-generated content.
XiaoHongShu launched its cross-border platform in 2014, connecting Chinese consumers with global brands by allowing them to buy overseas products directly through the app. Since then, the company has signed huge brands such as Lancome, Swisse, and Innisfree. There are many flash sales and online discounted sales, mainly in beauty and fashion industries.
The app is also great for influencer marketing, as many top Chinese KOLs have accounts on the platform, sharing lifestyle tips, product reviews, ads and live streaming sessions, driving direct sales thanks to apps’ e-commerce function.
XiaoHongShu works following a shopping cycle, in which one user will:
- Read shopping guides or reviews from other users
- Make a purchase through the app
- Publish product reviews about their own purchase
- Communicate about their shopping experience
Strongly working on its reputation, this Chinese shopping app has been inviting famous celebrities and KOL to open accounts and share beauty tips, such as FanBingBing who amassed over 10 million followers on Little Red Book. She was so successful that any products she endorsed on the app were sold out on the platform.
Even though the company had some previous challenges in monitoring its 3 billion pieces of content on the platform, it’s still one of the best UGC-driven e-commerce platforms with an innovative business model.
GMA has experience with working on the platform and we can help your brand on RED:
5. WeChat: the biggest China’s super-app leveraging e-commerce market
Wechat is THE app in China, with 1.26 billion active users as of 2022. The app started as a simple messaging app, but today it has many different functions, making it one of the biggest super-apps in the world. WeChat allows users to text, video call, voice call, record messages, post short notes on WeChat Moments, post videos on Wechat Channels, pay using WeChat Pay, use services like taxis and many more.
But one of the most important functions of WeChat are its’ mini-programs, that allow companies to build mini-apps within WeChat ecosystem. Companies are able to make H5 brochures of their brand, create games but what is the most important, they are also able to build their own WeChat stores. Today more than 95% of brands have a WeChat Store in mini-program.
Although WeChat Stores are rather smaller shopping apps in one mega-app, they are very popular in China and what is more, international brands are also able to create them! WeChat Stores are a huge success, as they are very convenient. They allow brands to create own stores, independent from any other platform, unlike flagship stores on all the other e-commerce platforms and China shopping apps. They are also cheaper and rather easy to settle (you will need to use a third-party provider).
Additionally, thanks to WeChats’ ecosystem, those shops are very shareable, which means that it’s easy to promote your products using many different functions of the app. Everything, from finding the brand information, to finding the products you are interested in to buying them (using integrated payment method of WeChat) can be done without leaving the app, which contributes to a great success of these shopping apps.
Here is one of our WeChat mini-program case studies:
Wechat stores are developed through the WeChat ecosystem, so if you want to open one, you need to create a Wechat official account and then access the WeChat store system developed by a third-party platform that cooperates with Tencent. Later, you will be able to link your Official account with the store in mini-program.
You can also always ask us for help, we’ve already built many shops for our clients on WeChat:
Need help with choosing the most suitable Chinese shopping app for your brand? Contact us!
Although there are many shopping apps and e-commerce platforms to chose from, it might be challenging for foreign brands to select the best shopping platform for them. Some, like Tmall, Taobao or JD.com are reserved rather for big and well-known brands, with an established branding in China. Those apps give you an opportunity to be on an actual shopping mall, which makes it easier to reach out to many Chinese customers.
Other apps and solutions, like setting up a store on Little Red Book, Douyin or WeChat are more suitable for smaller brands, that don’t want to invest a lot but still want to be able to sell their products in China online. The choices are vast and we advise you to hire professionals that can help you enter the Chinese market.
GMA is the most visible marketing agency in China. We have over 10 years of experience working with small, medium and big brands on multiple projects. We helped brands set up stores on Taobao, Tmall, JD, Pinduoduo, VipShop and many more. There are also many brands that worked with us on their marketing strategy for WeChat.
We create marketing strategies tailor-made for brands and their unique possibilities. We offer many services, depending on your needs. Contact-us to start your eCommerce journey now!
Successful in our projects, we are professionals in promoting your company in China while using the last digital tools. Chinese are connected, and so do we. Don’t hesitate to leave us a comment or contact us to discuss your project!
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