Three tips to get started in China

Siebe Gerbranda

Our insights from the Alibaba HQ

Last week our team was present at the e-trade mission organized by Alibaba and the Dutch Government. The mission was lead by Dutch Prince Constantijn and consisted of >100 carefully selected e-commerce companies from The Netherlands and Belgium.

Key part of the event was the presentation of the “Cross-border e-commerce Handbook”. The George, as part of DigiDutch, was asked to contribute content and expertise to the handbook. Additionally we organized sessions exploring the best ways to enter the biggest (and arguably most complex) e-commerce market in the world.

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During this event our team spoke to many great brands from the BeNeLux. Some of them are already exporting to China, while others are just getting a first taste of the market. From the many great discussions we had, a few things stood out. Let me share three things from our conversations last week.

There is no standard solution

The basis of market entry is always the same; before entering you’ll need a clear understanding of your target audience and an attractive positioning to be successful. But the scale in China requires a different way of thinking from any brand aiming to be successful. The wrong targeting, positioning, platform or execution can result in massive cost for the business.

Moreover, because the market is hyper-competitive and moving fast, a standard solution doesn’t exist. To avoid unrealistic investments, you’ll need to be very smart with your entry strategy. This allows you to differentiate from competitors and gain a strong position in the market. Any service provider or platform that promises to have THE solution shouldn’t be trusted. In our experience, it requires a balanced multi-platform approach to be successful in China.

Find the right partners

To get things done you’ll need the right partners. Even if your company already employs seasoned China professionals, you’ll need to work with trusted partners that have experience and a physical presence in the market. This allows you to navigate the complex eco-system and avoid unnecessary cost.

As Prince Constantijn mentioned during the mission it is always advisable to work with 3rd parties for your market entry. Sometimes you should even consider 4th parties to make sure the 3rd parties do their work properly. This could scare many newcomers in China. A platform like DigiDutch can serve as the trusted party to ensure a smooth collaboration.

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Inform, inform, inform

The market is developing so rapidly that nobody has all the information. Regulations change constantly and the e-commerce environment grows faster than anywhere else in the world. 60 million packages a day, 85.000 transactions per second; it is hard to imagine the sheer scale of the opportunity here in China. Developing a 5-year strategy is useless, as many of the regulations are still catching up to this reality. Things will change and they’ll change fast. Make sure you’re informed and up-to-date on the latest developments in your markets. E-trade missions as the one last week are definitely a good starting point. Build up your network of trusted partners from there and work closely with them to make your China ambitions a reality; one step at a time.

alibaba group

Siebe Gerbranda

Siebe Gerbranda

Agency Director Shanghai

Siebe is heading the Shanghai office and Asia operations. Prior to joining The George, Siebe was the Sub-Saharan Africa Lead for Google Business Development. He supported the commercial expansion across Sub-Saharan Africa, developing new operations in countries like Kenya and Nigeria. With cross-industry experience in multiple emerging markets he understands the challenges for global companies to develop digital propositions for a local audience.