Expats living in China are no strangers to the recent boom of the e-commerce industry in the country, with an increasing number joining the Chinese online shopping fever.
For the expat community residing in China, the Internet is not only the best way to keep in touch with family and friends back home, but it also represents an important tool to purchase goods.
The Chinese e-commerce market allows locals and expats to access the world’s largest online shopping offer, with millions of products and services available at a few clicks.
China has, since 2013, been the largest e-commerce market in the world with online spending of $307 billion during that year, according to a report by market research firm Forrester Research Inc. Not only was the purchasing activity growing, but also the variety of goods being offered.
“I was shocked by the amount of different things you can find online here. You can literally buy anything you want. It is extremely convenient,” says Emiliano Vega, a Spanish engineer working with a company in Tianjin.
Chinese e-commerce portals also offer some advantages, compared to some other overseas online shops, such as the option of payment methods, fast delivery services and a live chat to discuss price and product characteristics with the vendor.
“I find Internet shopping much more convenient here than in Germany. Delivery is much faster and many times things arrive on the same day. It is also very useful that I can just pay the money to the delivery person. A big drawback is that refund policies are not very transparent,” says a German journalist in Beijing, who declined to be named.
“I don’t think there is a big difference between the Korean e-commerce system and the Chinese online shopping one, but the Chinese payment method is a little bit more convenient,” says South Korean student Kim Tae-UK in Beijing.
Although foreigners see a lot of advantages in online shopping, they still prefer acquiring certain goods in brick-and-mortar shops.
“I love buying electronic devices online, but sometimes they happened to be fake. It does not really bother me as the price is cheap and the quality is not bad. But I would definitely not buy food products at e-commerce websites as I am scared they might not meet safety standards,” says Kim.
Food, furniture and cosmetics were frequently mentioned as things less likely to be bought online by foreigners. The main reason was the fact that quality could not be verified before purchase. Conversely, clothes and electronics were described as the most likely to be purchased online thanks to their competitive prices and wide range of options available.
But using Chinese online shopping portals, such as JD.com and Tmall.com, can also be a daunting experience for the first time for expats, especially if one is not fluent in the Chinese language.
Most of the foreigners asked admitted that it is an incredibly difficult task if one cannot read Chinese.
“I have not given it a try yet because I find it a little bit complicated. But my university organizes a seminar every semester to teach us how to buy online. I might give it a go after attending the class,” says Shenny Sanafi, an Indonesian student at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.
Federico Brembati, an Italian teacher in Beijing, says: “Luckily for me, my Chinese friends showed me how to use the most popular websites. But if it was not for them, I do not think I would have ventured myself into using them.”