Why go to a store when you can order online?

Seven years of living in some of China’s largest coastal cities has taught me at least one thing: in China, e-commerce is more engrained in daily life than anywhere else in the world. Every day new services pop up online and there seems to be a locally-bred solution for every imaginable consumer need.

Who needs Amazon in China, when local solutions often perform much better? E-commerce giant Alibaba is developing a delivery service that aims to deliver parcels in China within 24 hours, and cross-border parcels within 72 hours. This means you can order a phone in China on Monday and get it delivered to your door on Thursday – no matter where you are in the world.

Whatsapp or WeChat?

Another example is Whatsapp, for which China has its own local alternative called WeChat. To tell you the truth… Whatsapp is an outdated app people use in the West, I tell my Chinese friends. If you're not familiar with WeChat: it is like Facebook, Whatsapp and Apple Pay in one. A bonus is that you can book train tickets, movie tickets, hotels and dinners with it too. WeChat is easy to use and works like a charm. It has more users than Whatsapp. WeChat is already bigger than Whatsapp in Asia and it’s only a matter of time before we see this Chinese chatapp gain popularity in Europe and the US.

WeChat plays a large role in the lives of many Chinese and I consider it to be the most practical app available. I use it for nearly everything: to get taxis, to pay my electricity bill, to order a massage and even to buy flight-tickets.

Taxi-apps

Uber seems to be doing well in China; however, drivers tell me they mostly serve expats. This makes me wonder how Uber is doing with the local populace. In the mean time, China has its own taxi-apps that are growing quickly. Local competition will become even more fierce, as China’s two largest taxi-apps Didi and Kuaidi joined forces in a bid to control over 90% of the taxi market.

Food (delivery) is also a hot topic in China and investors are pouring millions of RMB in new online food delivery businesses. The race to acquire the most online users is now officially on. The competition is so intense that meals are actually sold below cost price to secure market share. Ordering food online is now often cheaper than going to a store or restaurant and ordering at a counter.

Not worry out quality

In the West, we have easy access to top quality produce without having to worry about the quality. In China the situation is quite the opposite; the country is plagued by food scandals, therefore giving rise to innovative food delivery services that guarantee top-quality produce from safe sources.

I myself am a satisfied customer of XinweiCook for example, which offers pre-cut and packaged ‘do-it-yourself’ meals to cook at home. When I order in the morning, delivery will follow on the same day. Wonderful beef, pre-cut and pre-packed vegetables, a clear recipe: it is all there, for a price that beats the price of the shop around the corner…

Through the roof

Given the doubts about food safety in China, you can imagine that these start-ups are going through the roof right now. Not because of expats like me, but because of the demand for high-quality foods among middle-class Chinese.
One of the simplest reasons why buying online has really taken off in a city like Shanghai is that it can cost a lot of time and energy to actually visit a supermarket. Ordering online saves time and headaches. But same-day delivery is key!

And you don’t just order small things online either. When a friend of mine was moving to Australia, he actually bought a windmill online. It was easier and cheaper to buy on the Internet than to travel to a specialty store in or outside the Shanghai area. Not so long ago, a company decided to sell cars for a discount on Wechat – in literally just a few minutes over a dozen of cars were sold.

To me, this shows that consumers in China have grown to trust and prefer online retailers over traditional stores. Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma was right when he claimed that e-commerce retailers will soon outsell brick-and-mortar retailers…

Image by XINWEI Cook

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