Social Shopping – A Big Deal for E-Commerce in China?

Sina Weibo and Alibaba hit the headlines in August when they announced a collaboration that would allow users of China’s leading microblogging platform to make direct purchases from Taobao.

As both accounts are rolled up into the same system, shoppers can use either Weibo or Taobao to log on. And Weibo has introduced a convenient new way of displaying Taobao products, which uses a “virtual card” to give information on pricing, popularity, and store credit rating as well as a one-click “buy” button. Sellers on Taobao will be able to quickly and easily upload product information by simply adding a software module to their existing store-management program. It’s all designed to make the purchase journey as simple as possible for the customer – and early reports suggest that it’s proving popular with both customers and brands.

Weibo has also taken a further step towards providing a truly social e-commerce experience – it offers users a “shopping assistant” named Ruyitao (that belongs to Alibaba), which sends private notifications whenever there are discounts on Taobao, Amazon, and 360buy.


Naturally, this blending of e-commerce and social networks has led to an upsurge in similar platforms looking for ways to take advantage of this particular sales strategy.

Douban takes its place in the social commerce arena

For example, following Sina Weibo’s collaboration with Alibaba, social networking service Douban launched a new channel “Dongxi” (Things) that explores “things” its users share within the platform.

Users simply click the “Post Things” button on the new channel and attach the product’s original purchase link. They can also show others the products that they “recommend”, “want” or “own”. Currently, however, to ensure quality control only invited users have the ability to do this, with full rights planned to roll out to all platform users by the end of the year. Like other websites, Douban is earning referral commission from shop owners and the launch of “Dongxi” marks a real commitment to Douban’s Pinterest-like e-commerce strategy.


Yihaodian: China’s social supermarket

One of China’s leading FMCG e-retailers (Walmart is a key investor), Yihaodian has arguably been ahead of the game when it comes to exploiting the benefits of social commerce. Five years ago, it took a pioneering step and embedded its site into Tianya, the popular social hub for blogging, microblogging, and sharing photo albums. Since then, it has entered into a strategic partnership with and is looking at innovative ways to engage with and sell to its thriving social community.


Mogujie: Pictures speak louder than words

Effectively a social network that filters best-selling items on Taobao, Mogujie allows users to post the equivalent of “tweets” with product pictures. Mogujie revolves around sharing shopping experiences and comparing products and prices. Aimed at “connecting people who want to buy quality things with quality sellers”, shoppers can post links to their favourite purchases, which are then voted up the waterfall flow of content via “likes” or comments. Its revenue comes from commission from sellers and advertisements from both sellers and brands.



What this means for brands

The level of enthusiasm for – and continued development of – social platforms to facilitate e-commerce sales has made this type of promotional activity a “must-have” rather than a “nice-to-have”. Social sharing, comparison, and marketing campaigns are more likely to convert into physical purchases than equivalent activities in the West. As a result, they’re becoming an integral part of brands’ e-commerce armory when it comes to establishing themselves and securing sales in China.

Key points

  • Embrace the benefits of working with an established social network with built-in e-commerce capabilities. Not only do customers get to see, share, and compare an incredibly broad range of products, brands also get access to the millions of network users (Weibo alone has more than 500 million registered accounts, and even “smaller” players like Mogujie boast tens of millions), and all the rich data that comes with them.
  • Social commerce and mobile are ideal shopping companions – instant access on the move or at home and the ability to share product details and purchases whenever and wherever the customer chooses, increasing purchase touchpoints, and sales opportunities.
  • There are no geographical barriers. Rural cities are just as able to take part in the social commerce experience as urban ones. For example, Yihaodian has a national social presence but uses local delivery services to meet the needs of customers in remote areas.
  • Brands of all types looking for expansion into China can take advantage of social shopping – it’s not limited to fashion or luxury. In fact, it’s almost entirely customer-focused. They have a purchase need and look to social commerce to meet it. Savvy brands will ensure that they’re on the right social networks at the right time to close the deal.

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