Up until just a few years ago, static web pages with only images of products and product descriptions were enough to sell goods online. While this is still the case with Amazon and eBay, the e-commerce landscape in China is very dynamic and more often than not changes rapidly.
Retailers try to respond to the market’s fast-changing requests by implementing new digital marketing strategies at all times. This is especially true in China — a huge market that quickly developed a highly competitive digital scene that played a role in the overall economic boom. Western marketers understand the importance of videos for Chinese consumers, but viewers’ shifting preferences have driven video-sharing platforms to make drastic changes. And since Chinese consumers must move back and forth between multiple video sharing platforms, their attention spans have gotten shorter, and they now have to be engaged with content squeezed into 8 seconds or less of video.
The way people approach brands online has changed a lot in recent years, but when it comes to China, digital marketing is the real game-changer. Here are the trends in digital marketing and e-commerce in China you should know about in 2020:
Livestreaming became an even bigger influence on consumer shopping behavior in 2019, and it will continue to play an increasingly important role in China’s e-commerce market in 2020. Viewers are able to purchase featured items while watching a video through embedded online links. Indeed, live streaming is breaking viewership records and helping to bring in a lot of money, while the live streaming experience becomes more personalized and high-quality. Over 100,000 brands used live streaming on Taobao as a sales method during Singles’ Day 2019 and live streaming by daily active users increased by 130% that day. The gross merchandise volume (GMV) generated from live streaming within the first hour of the shopping holiday on Taobao exceeded the full-day total GMV from live streaming last year.
- Shift from KOL to KOC
Key opinion consumers (KOCs) are average consumers that create videos and posts to share their own product reviews and recommendations. This emerging trend will offer an alternative for brands rather than using KOLs (key opinion leaders). Thanks to the popularity of a few Chinese social apps—including Kwai, RED, and TikTok—KOCs can share their product reviews easily, which impacts other shoppers’ purchasing decisions. These KOCs usually do not have a large number of followers each, but a lot of KOCs reviewing the same product can have even a greater impact of just one KOL reviewing it. One reason that KOCs are gaining popularity is that consumers are becoming increasingly aware that KOLs are being sponsored by brands to make product recommendations, so they tend to believe that the information presented by them is less credible and authentic. On the other hand, KOCs are themselves everyday consumers who offer impartial product reviews.
- Short-video apps and e-commerce
Short-video apps have been making their way into the e-commerce market, and this trend will continue in 2020. Short videos are typically between 10 and 20 seconds long and are made of fun content on different topics. Chinese users reportedly spend hours on short-video apps. The content is personalized content based on their browsing history and preferences which encourages them to spend more time on the apps. This is, of course, possible because of embedded artificial intelligence technology and algorithms. The total of users on such apps reflects an increase of 32% year over year, according to business intelligence provider QuestMobile. Short-video apps such as Kwai and TikTok are used by an average of 7.2 out of 10 mobile Internet users in China. The amount of time spent on these platforms has increased by 8.6% year over year from June 2018, totaling more than 22 hours per month, according to QuestMobile.
- Group buying will continue to grow
E-commerce platforms will increasingly embrace group buying in 2020, which offers products and services at significantly reduced prices if consumers buy in large quantities. This shopping model is attractive for shoppers with a limited budget, especially those in lower-tier cities, as they can join together to take advantage of the lower prices. Major e-commerce players are launching group-buying platforms to tap into this segment of shoppers
- Mini programs
Mini programs operate within apps such as Alipay, Meituan, and WeChat. They offer brands an additional online platform to market and sell their products, and users can perform similar functions without having to download a separate app. Brands can use mini programs as supplements to, not substitutes for, their own e-commerce platforms. Used as a secondary sales channel, mini programs can list in-demand items that sell quickly through flash sales promotions. Mini programs can also be used as a branding tool—brands can create interactive, visual mini programs to better engage customers and encourage them to share content with friends.
- Gaming and e-sports
For brands seeking out new opportunities for exposure, gaming is a great marketing tool thanks to its devoted fan base that can deliver authentic impressions for brands. One major game-related platform of focus in the coming year will be Bilibili, which is popular with China’s Gen Z and just won the exclusive rights to stream the League of Legends championship in China.