My cousin is a real gem of an en­trepreneur

China Daily European Weekly - - Business - By FAN FEIFEI fan­feifei@chi­ weis­hang daigou weis­hang weis­hang daigou

I never imag­ined that my cousin would one day sell jew­elry through her WeChat ac­count and make a great suc­cess of it. The busi­ness ven­ture changed her life. It also set a record of sorts in our ex­tended fam­ily — none of my rel­a­tives has ever en­gaged in busi­ness be­fore.

Five years ago, she quit her job and de­cided to start a busi­ness. First, she opened an on­line store on Alibaba’s e-mar­ket­place Taobao. She sold clothes and lux­ury prod­ucts, with am­ple help from her best friend in France.

The lat­ter would chose prod­ucts and have them shipped to China. My cousin would then ped­dle them via Taobao.

The in­ter­ac­tive e-store en­abled cus­tomers to of­fer feed­back, sug­ges­tions and ideas, as well as place re­quests for spe­cific prod­ucts.

In a sense, the friend in France and my cousin were — shop­ping rep­re­sen­ta­tives, or proxy shop­pers. They would buy what con­sumers wanted. This as­pect is dis­tinct in China’s cross­bor­der e-com­merce.

Slowly, their in­for­mal, small-time busi­ness started grow­ing. In the process of sell­ing lux­ury prod­ucts via e-com­merce plat­forms, she found jew­elry to be a very promis­ing busi­ness propo­si­tion.

She told me she was bullish about its fu­ture prospects. The in­ter­net, she said, was an im­por­tant sales chan­nel — a tool, if you will. At that time, I doubted that. I used to won­der how she could earn real money from a vir­tual world.

But she was con­fi­dent and reg­is­tered a com­pany with her sav­ings. She clinched co­op­er­a­tion deals with for­eign jew­elry com­pa­nies. She im­ported raw ma­te­ri­als and even sought do­mes­tic com­pa­nies that could pol­ish and pro­duce jew­elry.

At this point, the nat­u­ral busi­ness­woman in her rose to the fore. Which meant she would not part with trade se­crets, even with me, her own cousin. Busi­ness is busi­ness. More so if the cousin hap­pens to be a busi­ness jour­nal­ist.

My cousin’s com­pany grew its clien­tele slowly but surely. The cus­tomers are peo­ple who tick cer­tain boxes. Wealthy? Tick. Qual­ity-con­scious? Tick. Modern­minded? Tick. Chic? Tick. Tick, tick, tick, tick...

These are women who live in Zhe­jiang, Jiangsu and Shang­hai. About two years ago, she started sell­ing jew­elry even through her WeChat ac­count. There’s a Chi­nese word for such peo­ple — (or on­line mi­cro-busi­ness own­ers). I have no idea how she ze­roes in on her cus­tomers.

Net­work­ing? Prob­a­bly. Friends’ friends? Maybe. Be that as it may.

I don’t get un­duly ex­cited when friends rec­om­mend that I buy cer­tain prod­ucts via WeChat. But here’s a hard truth: more and more peo­ple in my circle of friends are be­com­ing and spam­ming me with their wares.

Did some­one say hell hath no fury like a fe­male busi­ness jour­nal­ist spammed?

Some of my friends-turned-sell­ers/ prod­uct-pro­mot­ers in­sist that stuff sold through so­cial me­dia is more re­li­able be­cause it is rec­om­mended by friends. Some of my non- friends are ever will­ing to buy, buy, buy.

To be sure, the in­ter­net has changed our lives. And now, e-com­merce and so­cial net­works are grow­ing mil­lion­aires as if they were mush­rooms. Op­por­tu­ni­ties and suc­cess, it ap­pears, are chas­ing those who dare to be ac­tive, those who set out to dis­cover and those who dare to fail.

So, in my spare time, I get a bit en­thu­si­as­tic and try to share in their fas­ci­nat­ing, in­spi­ra­tional sto­ries by buy­ing over­seas prod­ucts. I buy them via cross­bor­der e-com­merce plat­forms such as Yma­tou, Xiao­hong­shu (Red) and Tmall In­ter­na­tional. I think the qual­ity is guar­an­teed.

I also seek with high rank­ings, good rep­u­ta­tions, user com­ments and many fol­low­ers on their Taobao stores. On­line re­tail­ers are fiercely com­pet­i­tive. Their de­liv­ery speed and af­ter-sales ser­vice are fac­tors that in­flu­ence my on­line shop­ping.

Among the prod­ucts I most fancy are hand­bags, cos­met­ics and clothes. E-com­merce is a fas­ci­nat­ing place, be­cause you can com­pare the prices on dif­fer­ent web­sites and e-stores, and chat with store clerks be­fore mak­ing a fi­nal de­ci­sion.

These days, I sel­dom buy clothes at brick-and-mor­tar stores un­less they are of­fer­ing big dis­counts.

As I see it, the rapid growth of on­line shop­ping is a chal­lenge to the tra­di­tional re­tail in­dus­try. Im­proved shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ences, rea­son­able prices and the ap­pli­ca­tion of high-tech ap­pear to be the fu­ture trend and could still save the day for the tra­di­tional re­tail sec­tor, I think.

Who knows, my cousin may well branch out to a phys­i­cal jew­elry store next? I wish her well. And I hope I’d get a deep dis­count at any such store.

Es­ti­mated growth rate of ex­port vol­ume of Chi­nese cross­bor­der e-com­merce in 2020 Sales soar, qual­ity im­proves as global con­sumers take a shine to Chi­nese brands

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