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Top 10 Platforms You Should Know Before You Start Selling in China

Social and e-commerce platforms have become essential communication and sales channels for brands in China, and they are a vital part of Chinese consumers’ habits. We will analyze how each platform stands out in this ecosystem with its particularities and objectives for users and brands.

  • WeChat 微信

WeChat is more than just an app, it is a fully-fledged operating system with more than one billion daily users. The app offers users many possibilities: instant messaging, an online game platform, secured mobile payments, and social networking with an e-commerce function, thanks to the mini-programs. These various usages are what make this application so unique. As proof of its dominance, in China, WeChat holds 83% of the market share of social media.

The multiple features also apply to brands. WeChat offers many opportunities for brands to interact with customers.

These interactions are made possible by mini-programs sub-applications within the WeChat ecosystem that allow users to access a whole world of features without leaving the WeChat app. In other words, mini-programs serve to enrich the customer experience thanks to mini-apps allowing users to search for information, read articles, watch streams, play video games, make purchases, etc. In 2020 $250 billion in GMV was generated through mini-programs.

  • Sina Weibo 微博

Sina Weibo is one of China’s most used social media in China, with 500 million monthly users. It is the Chinese version of a mix between Facebook, and Twitter, with the possibility to post messages limited to 140 characters. Weibo is also one of the first sources of information in China: 70% of users consider that the information on Sina Weibo is reliable.

Sina Weibo is a real opportunity for brands to control and develop their image and reputation in China by communicating their latest news (new campaigns, ambassadors, collaborations, etc.) through relevant content. On the platform, KOL marketing has become the new norm. Partnering with a KOL provides many benefits, such as leveraging the KOL’s fanbase and reaching potential new consumers. The goal for the brand is to find the KOL, the influencer or celebrity that fits the brand image and target audience. 

Moreover, Weibo has been defined as ideal for tailor-made campaigns thanks to its precise targeting generating good sales results for brands.

Regarding sales on Weibo, the platform offers an interesting synchronization option with Taobao. This allows brands and KOLs to share Taobao links on Weibo, redirecting users to Taobao to finalize the purchase.

  • Taobao 淘宝

Taobao is more focused on e-commerce and defines itself as an online facilitator between merchants and consumers, like C2C retail. Since its launch in 2003, the e-commerce platform has allowed small businesses and individual entrepreneurs to open their online stores and sell their products. It is a real success since Taobao held 60% of total e-commerce sales in China in 2019 (including Tmall).

Taobao offers sellers the possibility to promote their products thanks to various marketing tools, notably instant messaging, which allows for greater interactivity with their customers. A brand’s reputation in China is crucial; it is, therefore, imperative to take good care of its customers.

Thanks to its interactivity and practicality, the platform offers a live shopping service, often hosted by KOLs, and is highly appreciated by consumers. The GMV of Taobao Live reached 500 billion yuan in 2020 due to the trust that Chinese consumers place in the KOLs and the deals they offer during their live shopping experiences.

  • Tmall 天猫

Tmall is the B2C platform inside Taobao, offering an adequately branded environment for brands to sell their products through an e-shop that looks just like their own e-commerce website. In addition to the virtual mall environment, Tmall offers plenty of marketing activations such as shopping festivals, brand and category days, new products springboard platform Hey Box etc., on top of traditional media buy. Brands are leveraging Taobao Live hosted on their flagship store account, on the social side. They also post transactional content on Guangguang – the social platform of Taobao. 

Five years ago, luxury brands were skeptical about selling on Alibaba’s platforms, afraid of losing credibility. In 2017, Alibaba decided to create a dedicated platform for luxury brands accessible on Taobao: Tmall Luxury Pavilion. Today, the platform triggered an increase in the online presence of luxury brands in China, attracting nearly 200 brands.

  • Pinduoduo 拼多多

Still, in the e-commerce sector, Pinduoduo is a platform specialized in group sales of products at rock-bottom prices. The platform was used by 800 million Chinese e-shoppers in 2020, mainly in 3rd tier cities.

On Pinduoduo, brands have several marketing levers. 

Paid ads are an effective way to target qualified prospects.

In addition, affiliate marketing is an excellent opportunity offered by the platform. If customers want to benefit from significant discounts, they need to share the deals with friends.

Finally, brands develop their visibility by leveraging KOLs to sell their products, since KOLs are followed by thousands of viewers on their live streams.

  • Douyin 抖音

Douyin is a  more social-based app. It is  a mobile application where users share short videos and live streaming. The app is very popular among young Chinese people: among the 600 million daily users, 85% are under 24 years old. It is also the Chinese pendant of Tiktok, the international version of Douyin.

There are three main ways to do business on the platform for brands. The first one is to carry out marketing campaigns in collaboration with Douyin. These can take the form of banners, hashtag challenges, or personalized video filters.

As for Taobao and Pinduoduo, brands can also rely on opinion leaders (KOL keys) and their community.

Finally, brands can open a Douyin store to start selling products directly on Douyin. 

  • Kuaishou 快手

Kuaishou is a direct competitor of Douyin, and it is the second biggest Chinese short video and live streaming app with 200 million daily users. Live streaming and short videos are becoming more and more important for brands because they have understood that it is a crucial channel to reach Chinese consumers. Hence, Chinese platforms have since surged in their turnover with the success of those new marketing content. 

  • Xiaohongshu 小红书

Xiaohongshu embodies the perfect mix between social media and an e-commerce platform. Through the publication of photos and videos, users/consumers share their experiences in different fields such as travel or make-up.  They can tag and recommend products, some of which can be purchased directly on the platform. More than 200 million users use the app.

In addition to its excellent return on investment, Xiaohonghu is considered one of the most effective channels for KOL campaigns. Between the advertising inserts, the online shops, and the “Shopping Notes,” the platform is full of interesting tools to leverage for brands.

  • Bilibili 哔哩哔哩

 BiliBili is China’s largest anime streaming and video sharing website and app. Today the platform content is much more diversified with videos about various topics: travel, humour, make-up, lifestyle, etc. Like Twitch in the West, the platform offers live streaming hosted by KOLs. It is an ideal platform for collaboration with content creators and direct communication with a brand’s fans. 

Regarding performance marketing, BiliBili offers paid ads like other platforms such as Xiaohongshu or Pinduoduo. They can be integrated into the news feed or appear only on the home page. Finally, Bilibili has recently launched its live shopping service with the recent cart feature.

  • Dewu 得物

Finally, Dewu is a new generation lifestyle platform that offers authentic, trendy, and rare products. The platform is used by 80 million Chinese monthly.

Dewu places rare products at the center of its business model, counting on a community of fans and experts to make it thrive. Users can share videos and photos about their recent purchases, inspire other users and of course purchase items. A whole section of the app is dedicated to first but also second-hand trade.

Brands can also promote their products via paid ads to the younger generations. They can also open a shop on the app or work with resellers to sell their products. 

As demonstrated here, e-commerce and social commerce platforms are now the same in China’s digital ecosystem. Both are highly used platforms for purchasing and entertainment purposes, and rands are aware of this and do not hesitate to seize the opportunities these platforms offer. 

This top 10 reflects well all the specificities and the complexity of the Chinese market. A strong partner is recommended for brands to be well advised on their China online business.

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