SES Shanghai: An Overview of China’s E-commerce Landscape

The first SES China that debuted in Shanghai last month has received rave reviews from the participants. The two-day event was filled with many questions, answers, and discussions around three major topics: namely search, social, and e-commerce. In this article, I’d like to do a post-event review particularly on e-commerce.

E-commerce in China has developed into two streams: the C2C and the B2B. In SES Shanghai, most of the discussions were B2C related, to a great extent reflecting that China’s e-commerce market is now heading towards this direction.

Unlike C2C, which has captured the lion’s share of, B2C e-commerce in China has plenty of room to accommodate more players. This is the segment that we will see independent e-commerce platforms competing and cooperating with the branded retailers at the same time in the future.

As a marketer, my biggest concern is how best practices will be evolved along the business opportunities. Yet, most of the presentations in SES Shanghai were about macro market insights and there were not many discussions on the marketing practice of e-commerce. In fact, I believe no matter whether e-commerce is a business model or a marketing channel, best practice deserves more attention from marketers.

Take search marketing as an example. It always has a natural integration with e-commerce. People who do search marketing are the most cost-driven marketers. They like CPC and CPA, and push conversion into the central focus of a marketing campaign. That’s why I wish I could see more marketers engage in in-depth discussions on topics like marketing automation and tactics.

In China, e-commerce marketers across the board are concerned mainly on the buy-side. Technically, they can be divided into two groups:

1. Marketers of independent e-commerce platforms
2. Retailers and wholesalers

Interestingly, these two groups are competing and cooperating at the same time in China. For instance, the retailer group could operate multiple shops on third-party platforms and build its own flagship online store at one time. With this perspective, the marketing approach can become very tactical and sophisticated.

When the retailers are planning for a paid search campaign, they should have two sets of semantics: brand-related and sales-related. While for the organic search, the main store is inevitably competing with the branches on independent platforms.

We also see two sub-streams of e-commerce emerging: the group-purchase model and the social model. In fact, participants in SES Shanghai were very enthusiastic about social commerce. Although there were discussions on the social model between the speakers and the audience, they were brief and many of them remained on the concept level. And for the group-purchase model, which should be interesting for CPA tactics and metrics, was also left undiscussed in all panels.

B2B e-commerce was another important piece that was unable to be put center stage in this event. As a matter of fact, the social application and search tactics for B2B e-commerce will be important for the world factory – China, where there are many suppliers who want to engage overseas buyers via online.

As advisor of the conference, all I want to say is there are always so many interesting topics with so little time in this emerging market. So, stay tuned and look forward to seeing you in the next SES Shanghai.

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