E-com­merce is now a melt­ing pot of shop­ping cul­tures

China Daily (USA) - - BUSINESS - By SIVA SANKAR Con­tact the writer at siva@chi­nadaily.com.cn

I buy cer­tain In­dian gro­ceries, in­clud­ing un­usual veg­eta­bles, from stores on Taobao that spe­cial­ize in such com­modi­ties.

In Sanya, Hainan province, some re­tail­ers cater to Rus­sians (even their sign­boards are in the Rus­sian lan­guage). Th­ese days, Aus­tralians and Africans in China buy on Tmall.com. Chi­nese con­sumers in China buy for­eign prod­ucts on plat­forms such as xiji.com and yma­tou. on Black Fri­day and Cy­ber Mon­day.

Con­ceiv­ably, the next trend could be some­thing like this: In­dian con­sumers in China will buy In­dian prod­ucts di­rectly from In­dian on­line mar­ket­places, even as their com­pa­tri­ots back in In­dia buy Chi­nese gad­gets di­rectly from Alibaba.

That ap­pears pos­si­ble be­cause e-com­merce has in­no­vated tra­di­tional fes­tive shop­ping like Christ­mas sales imag­i­na­tively. Hith­erto lim­ited by ge­og­ra­phy, shop­ping fes­ti­vals are be­com­ing bor­der­less on­line.

Sin­gles Day is no longer a deal bo­nanza just in China. Black Fri­day and Cy­ber Mon­day are not lim­ited to West­ern mar­kets ei­ther. In­dia’s Di­wali is a fes­ti­val for Chi­nese, South Korean and Euro­pean man­u­fac­tur­ers, too.

Here’s proof: in In­dia, Chi­nese prod­ucts were bought on­line by mil­lions dur­ing the an­nual shop­ping frenzy in fes­tive Oc­to­ber. On Nov 11, prod­ucts made the world over, in­clud­ing in China, and worth an es­ti­mated over $20 bil­lion, were bought from Chi­nese on­line mar­ket­places by con­sumers in the Chi­nese main­land, Hong Kong and Tai­wan province (Alibaba alone net­ted over $17 bil­lion).

Ev­i­dently, e-com­merce has be­come a melt­ing pot of shop­ping cul­tures: In the United States, pop­u­lar year-end sales started not with the Black Fri­day-Cy­ber Mon­day pe­riod but much ear­lier, with 11-11, an Alibaba in­ven­tion that has be­come an ex­port item it­self, an ex­ten­sion of China’s soft power.

Dou­ble-11 is be­ing cus­tom­ized for mar­kets out­side the main­land, just as Black Fri­day and Cy­ber Mon­day are get­ting a new char­ac­ter in China (and a Chi­nese touch in the United States — this year’s Thanks­giv­ing Day pa­rades in Chicago and New York were en­riched by Chi­nese cul­tural el­e­ments Mon­key King, Sichuan Opera and pan­das).

This is per­haps best ex­em­pli­fied by Deal­moon.com, a US-based brand ag­gre­ga­tor run by Chi­nese-Amer­i­cans. Deal­moon cel­e­brates 11-11 in the US through of­fers on prod­ucts that “Alibaba/JD typ­i­cally don’t have”: lux­ury goods such as hand­bags and skin­care brands.

Deal­moon’s main tar­gets are Chi­nese-Amer­i­cans. Ap­par­ently, they have al­ready splurged an es­ti­mated $100 mil­lion on US brands since 11-11, sug­gest­ing that di­as­pora groups are tran­si­tion­ing to a new mind set.

As vot­ers in the US, Chi­nese-Amer­i­cans “are turn­ing a bit to the right”, as one ad­viser to the Don­ald Trump cam­paign told China Daily. As con­sumers, they are turn­ing a bit to West­ern lux­ury prod­ucts, even as Chi­nese goods find ways to reach the US faster.

Brands and on­line sell­ers are des­per­ately try­ing to make sense of this phe­nom­e­non and ex­ploit it, ac­cord­ing to a Deal­moon spokesper­son. She was among the e-com­merce ex­ec­u­tives who at­tended Lux­ury In­ter­ac­tive, a three-day con­fer­ence in New York in Oc­to­ber.

“They (e-com­merce ex­ec­u­tives of lux­ury brands from Louis Vuit­ton to Ferrari) are all dy­ing to sell their prod­ucts to Chi­nese con­sumers, in­clud­ing those liv­ing in the US and China.”

Such pre­ci­sion-tar­get­ing will be­come essen­tial as new trade agree­ments prom­ise to in­crease the flow of hu­man re­sources, and as cross­bor­der ship­ping be­comes free/ af­ford­able. Mar­kets within na­tional bound­aries will likely be­come even more seg­mented into coun­try-wise con­sumer groups.

So, Alibaba, JD and their ilk need to be aware that, in China, their pa­trons in­clude both Chi­nese and non- Chi­nese con­sumers. Ditto for Ama­zon in the US, Flip­kart in In­dia, and oth­ers else­where.

To serve such groups bet­ter and grow their busi­nesses, e-com­merce la­bels need to make their on­line mar­ket­places, dig­i­tal pay­ment sys­tems, prod­uct man­u­als and cus­tomer ser­vice multi-lin­gual. Com­pa­nies such as Xiaomi, Huawei and Ama­zon also need to con­sider in­te­grat­ing their global operations, in terms of prod­uct cus­tomiza­tion.

They also need to pon­der: Could a non-Chi­nese con­sumer in China be able to buy a lap­top or an e-book reader with English-lan­guage op­er­at­ing sys­tem? Could a cus­tomer who bought an Oppo, OnePlus, Gionee or vivo smart­phone in In­dia, and then re­lo­cated to China, get free ser­vice and re­pairs in China?

The com­ing 12/12, Christ­mas and New Year sales will glob­al­ize on­line shop­ping fur­ther. And, thanks to China, 2016 will go down in his­tory as the year that pushed cross-border e-com­merce past the tip­ping point.

XU PEIQIN / FOR CHINA DAILY

Cus­tomer ser­vice em­ploy­ees of an on­line store work to an­swer po­ten­tial buy­ers’ ques­tions in Nan­tong, Jiangsu province.

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