Alibaba and ecommerce festivals: Europe's gateway to China

Meifang Chen, Alibaba Group UK
- Finance - Dec 02, 2016

This year China has moved closer to becoming the world’s largest retail market, with the total retail sales of consumer goods in the country reaching 30.1 trillion yuan (£3.39 trillion) in 2015, as cited by China Internet Watch.

To put that into perspective, according to Retail Economics the UK’s total retail sales reached £339 billion in the same year - just 10 per cent of China’s retail figures.

One important factor stimulating this growth has been the ability of brands outside of mainland China to connect with consumers in what is the world’s most populous country. Businesses around the globe are responding to the increasing demand for foreign brands by Chinese consumers. Indeed, in 2015 alone the number of overseas companies operating in China’s free trade zones doubled. 

In today’s highly competitive global market, the ability of a brand to gain exposure in new regions is invaluable and more essential than ever before. 

This constant search for international expansion options is why shopping festivals in China have become so important to a brand’s success in the country. Not only do the festivals expose consumers to new products and allow them to experience new brands, but they provide businesses with the ideal platform to increase trade within a new market. They are gateways to the exciting, high-potential parts of this constantly evolving country that brands want to work, and compete, within.

One example is Tmall Global’s annual 8.8 Shopping Festival in China, focused on showcasing top-selling products from global brands to Chinese consumers. The platform, which is a subsidiary of e-commerce company Alibaba Group, offers foreign brands access to 434 million Chinese consumers. The recent 2016 event featured more than 2,000 quality products from a variety of overseas markets and include fashion, cosmetics and even nutrition supplements. A series of live broadcasts also ran to connect consumers with the brands in real-time while they were watching from home and on the Tmall mobile app.

Major British retailer Sainsbury’s was just one of more than 100 brands to exploit the 8.8 opportunity, following an announcement earlier in the month that the British retailer was expanding its offering of branded products on the Tmall platform to over 100. A variety of new products were introduced such as their mixed nuts, Fairtrade Italian-style coffee and chargrilled vegetable pasta sauce

Looking at the level of interaction Sainsbury’s experienced on the day clearly shows the benefits of the 8.8 festival. For example, its live stream during the day received over the 50K Weibo ‘likes’, whilst the number of customers with Sainsbury’s bookmarked in their Twitter favourites rose from 110k to 155k.

Brands should always be exploring new growth opportunities beyond their borders. Research is just the first step – appropriately leveraging an opportunity is the key.

Shopping days provide an ideal virtual shop window and best way to do just that, giving brands the chance to start leaving their mark on new places in the world. The growing appreciation of their modern relevance can be understood further by acknowledging the general breadth of major shopping festivals that now exist; from the Korea Grand Sale, to Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the UK and US, as well as the USA Outlet Shopping Festival.

Take Alibaba’s 11.11, or ‘Singles’ Day’, for example - the biggest shopping festival in the world, four times the size of Black Friday and cyber Monday combined. During Singles’ Day 2015, a third (33 per cent) of all purchases were international products, with consumers from 232 regions and countries completing transactions.

The benefits of shopping festivals are twofold – product accessibility for consumers and massive exposure for brands, enabling them to expand into previously unknown territories to grow and improve brands need new territories. Shopping festivals offer them exactly that.

By Meifang Chen, Alibaba Group UK’s Senior Manager

Read the December 2016 issue of Business Review Europe magazine. 

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