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E-Commerce and Social Media : A Non-Existing Border in the Chinese Market

Today’s Chinese consumers have immersed themselves in a 2.0 era thanks to their well-built and developed digital environment, often ahead of the world. China is the leading e-commerce market, with more than 780 million e-shoppers in 2020.  In addition to the importance of e-commerce in China, social media holds an extraordinary place in Chinese consumption habits.

8 out of 10 users say they have already purchased on social media. In 2020, almost 1 billion Chinese were using social networks.

These figures show the importance of social media in Chinese culture. Close to addiction, the Chinese spend an average of 25 hours a week on social media, one of the country’s main sources of information and entertainment. It is also the place to get shopping advice and make in-app purchases.

Chinese consumers like to share everything and incredibly quickly. Their behavior contrasts greatly with European habits, for whom social media is not intended to sell. Although features are developing, this is not yet part of their consumption habits.

The younger generation of consumers largely drives this growing trend of buying on social media. These younger consumers are born social; they are users and consumers simultaneously on each digital touchpoint. 

It is true that, unlike the majority of Europeans, online shopping in China is primarily about entertainment, not about saving time.

Chinese consumers are looking for newness, experiential, engaging, and practical shopping. What social media offers, notably through livestreaming and product short videos, is this alliance between shopping and entertainment. It is indeed a way to present a product playfully and attractively. What Chinese consumers particularly like about this practice is the interactivity it offers, particularly through real-time comments. Live streams are often hosted by Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), who are extremely popular in China. According to a study, 60% of Chinese consumers are ready to buy a product presented by a KOL. KOLs are influencers in their own right, just as they are in Europe. They have a huge base of fans that make them real opinion leaders and explain the confidence Chinese consumers place in them.

As you can see, live streaming has become an essential cultural element of online shopping in China as it has particularly accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, is originally a social media that started to offer live streaming for its content creators and brands to share time with their community about various topics and products. Douyin also partnered with Xiaomi,, and Suning, allowing them to install programs on Douyin to facilitate the purchase.

Alibaba launched Taobao as a C2C e-commerce platform. In 2016, the platform established Taobao Live, an online broadcasting platform integrated with Taobao. It is the platform that democratized live shopping and turned KOLs into real sales advocates as we know them today in China. Since its launch, the platform has been hit, with 3,000 new members daily.

Today, it has become almost impossible to differentiate social media and e-commerce platforms in China as they have all been integrating social and commerce features. Having a strong presence in terms of communication and e-commerce on Chinese social media is therefore important and even essential for any brand wishing to increase its online presence in China. Social media is an integral part of consumption patterns, and it is up to brands to adapt to it.

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