The commonly-told narrative where China entered e-commerce by copying and rolling out concepts from Silicon Valley has been systematically erased over the past decade. Today, from the recent boom of livestreams to 24-7 customer service, Chinese innovation has shaped global e-commerce, providing the rest of us with a glimpse of shopping’s future.
Here, Jing Daily highlights four of these innovations. But rather than focusing on their technological aspects, we explore their impact on the key social and cultural dynamics of global shopping.
“Shopping as Entertainment” or “Competing for Share of Time”
One of the defining characteristics of China’s e-commerce market is the way that online shopping has been created as a pastime, with retailers and apps curating spaces for people to discover, play, and enjoy on their own or with friends. Spending is almost a secondary aspect of these experiences, with retailers competing for consumers’ time rather than their wallets.
The explosion of livestreams in China is a case in point, and it is an area that global players are now starting to embrace, from American luxury retailer Nordstrom hosting over 50 virtual events last year to French department store Printemps recently broadcasting four live-shopping programs from its Boulevard Haussman flagship store. Furthermore, the burgeoning success of the US-based livestream startup Popshop Live (the company recently announced a valuation of $100 million) foreshadows growing confidence in the movement.
Other examples of entertainment-led commerce incorporated by global players include Instagram’s recent allowance of creators to sell products via Instagram Live, click-through product launches in its Stories, and links to products in Feed photos. Meanwhile, shoppable Reels were introduced in December of 2020 and are similar to the Chinese Bytedance-owned video app Douyin.
Taking a page from its sister app Douyin’s playbook, TikTok has persuaded consumers to habitually shop via video in Europe and the US, with the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt currently at 4.1 billion views and counting. This angle not only shows the power of short videos but also of recommendation-led purchasing, with the evolving concept of shopping becoming a part of day-to-day online entertainment.
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