Unique Country - Unique Ecosystem


You can’t start analysing the Chinese digital market without discussing its size. China is a massive country with more than 1.4 billion people and 722 million internet users. They represent the biggest population of internet users in the world coming a close second with 460 million users and the United States following with 292 million users in India. Despite these numbers, China’s internet penetration is just over 50% (89% in the USA) with huge potential to grow in this unique ecosystem.


line behaviour in China varies radically from Western habits in many ways: the platforms they share on, how they navigate on them, how people share, and the topics they enjoy reading. Not enough is known about Chinese platforms, although they have grown in complexity and are even more innovative then their western counterparts.


Unique market – Unique Online behaviour


For a brand in China, social media platforms are one of the best ways to reach a very specific and targeted audience. But the complexity and uniqueness of these platforms requires brands that they deliver a unique and tailored strategy to succeed.



Rule 1 – Being 100% mobile

Mobile use in China is key to understand how individuals use social channels. With a modest 717 million mobile users (3 times more than in the United States) and 527 million users who pay with their mobile phones phones (11 times more than in the United States) 

it’s clear that people rarely use their computers to browse. This has an impact on the ways channels are used. Social channels in China are designed to encourage you to share your daily life events (for example WeChat encourages you to share your “moments”). Like Snapchat or Instagram stories they have been tailored for mobile use only. These platforms have grown so much (by the number of active members and the number of different functionalities) and have worked to innovate their features so much so, they could be regarded as a mobile lifestyle platform rather than just a “social network”. .



Rule 2 – Understanding the mistrust in traditional sources, institutions and brands

Authentic reviews and mutual trust are essential to social platforms. Users value their friend’s recommendations more than any other source to try out new shops, restaurants, places, trips and more. This word of mouth 2.0 is especially valued in a country with a history of scandals that has led to a great deal of mistrust and scepticism among customers.

Thus, official information is less trusted than Wechat moments and on these platforms, information is passed around very quickly. According to a survey carried out by Hong Kong Trade Development Centre (HKTDC) in 2017 on the Chinese middle class, people are encouraged to share their moments “so that their friends can understand them better”. With more than half of the respondents to the survey agreeing to the fact that the information shared by their friends could “trigger their impulse to buy”. The typical Chinese consumer evidently relies heavily on recommendations from friends and family compared to the rest of the world.



Rule 4 – Understanding the difference in the customer journey: an onmi plaform journey vs an integrated seamless journey

Chinese consumers expectations of the online experience are completely different from what a Western market would expect. Westerner’s like to shop online because it is faster and convenient. Their e-commerce platforms are therefore optimized to be quick and easy with numerous search functions, filters, rapid purchase tunnels (generally the less a consumer must click on a webpage, the better). Customers will use different platforms to search for articles (Google), compare (Amazon, Google, other brands), find inspiration (Instagram, Pinterest), ask their friends for advice (Facebook, WhatsApp), request the merchant for more information and finally make a purchase.

In contrast, e-commerce platforms in China are designed to provide a richer and unique experience. Shopping online is seen as a part of an adventure, mixing social, entertainment, and the shopping experience where customers take their time and explore like they would strolling through a mall with friends and family.


Marketplaces utilise the huge amount of data they capture (social interactions, localisation data, shopping preferences) to provide a tailored experience, updated in real time. Suggestions, whether for promotions, brands, or content are generally very accurate. In China, customers, can stay on the same platform to search, find inspiration, ask friends, see what KOL’s are wearing and suggesting, chat with the merchant and make a purchase.


Unique market – Unique Online behaviour


The Chinese social media industry is one of the most unique, diverse and dynamic ecosystems in the world. But 2 main platforms are leading the way: Wechat and Weibo. Weibo (Chinese “Twitter”) would be described to be a public platform while Wechat (Chinese “Facebook”) is used to personally connect with a big circle of friends.


These platforms have a swiss-army knife approach. Each platform is a unique mix of everything. For example on WeChat, the most used app with 1 billion users, someone can: share pictures and videos, send texts and voice messages, phone and video call, but also purchase movie tickets, order a taxi, pay bills, send money to friends, join discussion groups (personal or business), transfer money, pay in shops, read the news, follow official brands’ accounts, share a real time location with a friend, scan QR codes, buy plane tickets, find people around you…


Practically anything is doable, and nothing seems to be stopping the creativity and innovation of these platforms. It is important for brands to master the functionalities of these platforms to be able to reach their audience. Brands also must recognize that successful campaigns and ideas that work in the West, will not work in China. Everything must be localized, from the concept, to the KOL’s and the type of content posted.


Unique market – Unique content


Competition for content on these channels is fierce because articles are no longer enough to succeed. Content must be authentic with user oriented mixing videos, entertainment and excitement. For example, the French cosmetic brand “Clinique” launched a 40 episodes series broadcasted daily where the skin care products were the focus of the plot. This advertisement was viewed more than 21 million times and Clinique’s online awareness is now 27% higher than its competitors. Content needs to be original, appealing, unique or funny and brands have understood the necessity to invest in actual marketing teams to monitor their accounts around the clock to work closely with marketing agencies to create meaningful content for their audience.


On Taobao, Tmall or JD.com (Chinese leading marketplaces) merchants work with celebrities on live streaming events to promote their products and encourage purchases with direct links. To build and create the best online content brands can get inspired by the offline experience to build unique content-based games, series, films, and fashion shows to create the ultimate social and shopping experience.


Unique market – Unique content


The latest trends to watch include:


  • Social live streaming (on apps like Danmu)
  • Social news (news and Q&A’s on apps like Toutiao)
  • Short videos (on apps like DouYin or Kuaishou)



An anatomy of the world’s largest e-commerce market



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