We have asked our Strategic Partner, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, to provide a basic & quick overview of the Chinese eCommerce landscape specifically around marketplaces, payments and IP. They reached out to their colleagues in China.
This reference guide was spearheaded by the U.S. Commercial Service Officer, Leon Skarshinski based in Beijing, China.
Apparently, he is also a muscle car fan and also fairly muscular in his own right.
China ECommerce Quick Reference Guide
In China, many of the traditional outlets such as Facebook, Google and U.S. web-sites are permanently or periodically blocked or suffer from extremely slow speeds due in large part to the “Great Firewall.” This document provides a brief overview of the major Chinese e-commerce platforms and includes general guidance on selling, receiving payment and tackling counterfeit goods. This document only covers the major e-platforms, many of which also directly provide services to help market and sell a given product. In-country distributors/ partners often manage such functions. In sum, the starting point is to register as a seller on the e-commerce platform of interest which will, upon proper completion, enable the receipt of payments. Sellers must also be cognizant of other essential export market aspects, not covered in this guide, such as certifications, Customs clearance and logistics. DOC’s E-Commerce resource center may be found at: https://www.export.gov/eCommerce
In regards to making and receiving online payments in China, credit and/or direct debit has become the prominent pay method, available with a majority of transactions and typically linked to a given e-commerce site. However, foreign credit cards and foreign bank-issued debit cards have yet to be fully accepted. Though it may be used on occasion, PayPal is not a popular option for Chinese customers aiming to make an online payment in China. Currency conversion fees are high, and the transaction process may be slow or impeded by the Great Firewall.
There is no one preferred payment system to cover all Chinese e-commerce platforms as things differ by site and even seller. Credit, debit, Alipay and Wechat wallet/pay transfer are typically accepted across platforms, the latter two becoming especially popular in recent times. One can use Alipay or WeChat Wallet to pay almost everywhere both online and offline. Often, this involves the scanning and/or generation of quick response (QR) codes for payment via cell phones. Methodology may slightly differ depending on whether one purchases from a desktop/laptop or directly via mobile device. For example, if purchasing online via laptop, upon checkout, a QR code may be made available which in turn is scanned by cell phone via Alipay or WeChat Apps. In China, cell phone retail is the primary method the population uses to shop online, so sellers should have familiarity with both mobile APPs and websites for a given platform. Payment on delivery is also accepted on many platforms.
Another interesting difference between China and United States is that people in China tend to communicate with the sellers before placing an order, especially on Taobao. Sometimes they communicate to check to see if things are in stock, if things are true to size or can be shipped soon enough, or to just to get a feel about whether the commodity is authentic and the seller is trustworthy. Such communications are via the built-in instant messenger. People expect prompt replies. Moreover, such messages can be used as support should a dispute occur.
Primary Chinese Online Advertising and Sales Platforms
WeChat (Wēixìn) 微信
Developed by Tencent, WeChat is a cell phone application often referred to as the “Facebook of China”. WeChat offers a variety of functions beyond peer to peer communication. In China, it is the preferred method of communication and information sharing. WeChat also offers a number of very popular ways to send/receive payment – largely through “wallet” functions involving the scanning and/or generation of unique QR codes or direct WeChat to WeChat payments.
To establish a personal account, all that is required is a valid cell phone number from any country to be entered during the registration process. E-main addresses cannot be used to register. Following account creation, one may start establishing a contact list (i.e. “friend network”). Businesses may also consider creating a WeChat public account for business promotion efforts. This is free of charge but more detailed information is required to create an account, including the need to be registered as a legal company in China. There are two options, neither of which has a limit on the number of followers:
- Service account: Primarily for businesses and organizations; this account is allowed to send out one message per week, receive enquiries and create a mini mobile site within the app. For merchandise sales, it is recommended to choose this type of account, as it supports the WeChat pay while the subscription account does not.
- Subscription account: A more basic account that is open to any individual, enterprise or other institutions, this account essentially allows one to share information to followers at the rate of 1 message/day. The challenge is attracting followers as they have to proactively sign up. To send a message for promotion/advertising purposes, the subscription account would be recommended
A company can register both types of public accounts: http://mp.weixin.qq.com/
Wei Dian – Selling via WeChat:
WeiDian, the WeChat online store, is a third party platform that may be downloaded from a given App store and registered with a cellphone number. After registration, a bank card (usually a Union Pay debit card) is required to establish an account; following which one can start “displaying” merchandise in WeiDian. Products or a whole “shop” may be shared with followers or members of a WeChat network. Payments need to be made through WeChat pay or Alipay. WeiDian is not as popular as Taobao or JD360. One weak point of WeiDian is that sellers can only sell products to WeChat friends.
Weibo 新浪微博 or 微博
Weibo is a Chinese microblogging site most often referred to as the equivalent of Twitter in China. Weibo is the most popular blogging app in China and is a subsidiary of Sina Corp, China’s largest internet portal with Alibaba owning approximately 30% stake in Sina Corp. By May 2016, its registered users reached 502 million with monthly active users nearing 130 million. Most foreign companies operating in China have a Weibo account in addition to their official Chinese websites. While there is not a sales function, links/references to where a product may be purchased are typically provided. There is not a cap on the number of followers. There is a similar WeChat-affiliated app called Tencent Weibo (unrelated to this Weibo) which is from the same company of WeChat but it is not as popular.
The Alibaba Group maintains multiple e-commerce platforms including the world’s largest online business-to-business trading. Used by SMEs and large companies alike, there are three platforms in addition to TMall.com and TaoBao.com, which are listed separately:
- Alababa.com: Global wholesale trading platform (B2B).
- AliExpress.com: Primarily Chinese SME’s offering products at wholesale prices.
- 1688.com: A Chinese portal developed for domestic B2B trade in China.
Payment: Payment on Alibaba is via Alipay, a third-party online payments service provider in China. Its primary product is a digital wallet, namely Alipay Wallet. Alipay collaborates with all of China’s major banks and some international card and payment organizations. Supported payment methods include Visa, MasterCard/Maestro, T/T (Bank Transfer), Western Union, QIWI, Web Money, Yandex and Boleto. For non-Chinese nationals using Alipay, a detailed guide with illustrations may be found here: http://www.smartshanghai.com/articles/smsh/yes-foreigners-can-use-alipay-this-is-how
IPR: Infringing goods remain a big problem on these platforms but Alibaba continues to announce steps that it claims will help reduce the number of infringing goods available on its platforms once such steps are implemented. Alibaba has established a system called AliProtect that operates across the Alibaba platforms. In October, 2016, the registration and login systems for AliProtect and TaoProtect – the IP complaint systems established for Taobao and TMall – were merged with the stated intent of creating a more unified system and facilitating enforcement across the various Alibaba platforms. Alibaba Group companies are not direct sellers. Consequently, they are only (secondarily) liable if they receive notice of an infringement and they take no action.
IP right holders or authorized agents may create an Alibaba account (or via an established account) and subsequently access Chinese and/or English login pages to report IPR infringement (patent, copyright, trademark). Vendors can also login to AliProtect to respond to complaints filed against them. It should be noted that detailed information on how to register and submit take-down requests is not provided on this site.
Aliprotect procedures: https://legal.alibaba.com/complaint_rule.htm?spm=0.0.0.0.MR8y32
It should be noted that detailed information on how to register and submit take-down requests is not provided on this site.
TMall (owned by the Alibaba Group), formerly known as Taobao Mall, is a business-to-consumer (B2C) platform open to international businesses to sell goods in mainland China.
Only businesses can open online selling accounts in Tmall with strict registration requirements. Advertisements from TMall can also be displayed on Taobao. The AliProtect and Quiquan IPR protection programs both apply to TMall.
Payment: TMall uses the Alipay payment system as well as other methods previously covered
Taobao (owned by the Alibaba Group) is the largest consumer to consumer e-commerce platform in China that may be seen as a hybrid of eBay and Amazon with both fixed price and auction functions; a majority of goods being sold via the former. Used mostly by small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Taobao.com was placed on the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released its “notorious markets” list.
Payment: Taobao accepts Alipay and WeChat payment systems and also may be linked to credit cards, banks and other methods as described under the Alibaba section.
IPR: Piracy/counterfeiting issues are prevalent on Taobao. If registered in China, trademark and patent rights holders can use the Aliprotect system to report IPR infringements. Taobao will only take enforcement action on behalf of rights registered in China. In addition, a Chinese language IPR protection platform has been established for Taobao: Quiquan. The differences between AliProtect and Quiquan are unclear. The following webinar explains how the take-down procedures work at Taobao: https://www.stopfakes.gov/article?id=Takedown-Procedures-at-Taobao-Second-Edition
JD.com or Jingdong Mall (formerly 360buy) is one of the largest online direct sales (B2C) retailers. JD.com purchases products from suppliers, warehouses those products until sold, and then delivers products through its fleet of vehicles. JD also allows third-party sellers access to its sales platform. More popular than the competing TMall, JD.com has better reputation for carrying legitimate goods but this is still no guarantee for authenticity. Because JD.com is a direct seller, it is directly liable for any infringing products sold on its website.
Payment: People have a variety of payment methods on JD.com, such as cash (Chinese RMB) upon delivery, debit card, Visa, MasterCard and JD’s self-owned JD Wallet (similar to the WeChat and Alipay) but it only works on JD.com as of now. WeChat and Alipay are accepted as well. For international credit cards, there may be a small transaction fee, varying from 0%-5% of the total amount. Much depends on the managing bank of the card. Details may be found at the following link: http://onestop.globaltimes.cn/how-do-i-use-jd-com/ (note: link may not work with certain browsers)
IPR: JD maintains a notice-and-takedown system. Following Chinese language drop-down menus on JD.com’s home page, one can report IPR complaints; however, one must first create a user account. JD has a relationship with some industry associations that provide members of these associations with streamlined reporting systems. An English interface for notice-and-takedown is now available at enipr.jd.com
Amazon.cn operates as a mixed B2C, M2C, and C2C platform, allowing buyers to purchase direct from Amazon or through merchants or individuals selling on Amazon.cn. Similar in operation and structure to Amazon.com
Payment: Similar to Amazon.com with a variety of options: cash upon delivery, debit card and credit card (both domestic and international). Amazon.cn now even takes Alipay.
IPR: IP right holders who suspect a counterfeit product is being sold through Amazon.cn can initiate a complaint through the “help” tab on the main webpage after logging on. One must follow a buried Chinese language link for “Contact Us” (联系我们) in order to get to an English language set of drop-down menus. Navigating this series of drop-down menus is cumbersome but eventually leads to an option to file an email report indicating a belief that a product is fake: https://www.amazon.cn/gp/help/reports/infringement
CN domain name registration:
The domain used in China is .CN (e.g. business.cn) and the Chinese domain name system is managed by China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC). All .CN registration takes place via the CNNIC (https://www.cnnic.net.cn/). The process has become easier over the years and there are now are a number of (online) firms that can assist with the registration process assuming relevant information is provided and certain criteria met. Such companies include godaddy.com and Chinese domain name service providers Wanwang (Alibaba controlled company) and Xinnet. Professional legal advice should be sought in clarifying domain name ownership issues. Additionally, distributors and/or “trolls” are often known to establish .CN websites without permission/knowledge of foreign entity. More information related to .CN domain name registration procedures may be found at: http://cnnic.com.cn/IS/CNym/CNymzc/. The following webinar explores how to deal with domain name disputes in China:
Should an infringing product be discovered online, a take-down notice must be filed with the e-commerce platform. The process has been described in some circles as “whack-a-mole” since new postings continuously spring up as take down notices are filed. Platforms are not required by law to monitor themselves. It is suggested that resources be devoted to monitoring all relevant websites. This can be done in-house or an outside “Watch Service” may be retained for this task. In addition, none of the platforms listed above have a mechanism for complete removal/denial of a given product line. An IPR webinar is available on STOPfakes.gov: https://www.stopfakes.gov/article?id=How-SME-s-Can-Stop-the-Violation-of-their-IPR-on-Asian-E-Commerce-Websites
Additional IPR Resources:
China IPR Toolkit, an online guide to registering, protecting and enforcing your IP in China: http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/ipr.html
Registering a trademark in China:
Intellectual Property Rights Information & Assistance:
China IPR Toolkit, an online guide to registering, protecting and enforcing your IP in China: https://www.stopfakes.gov/article?id=China-IPR-Resources
To consult with an IP Trade Specialist at ITA: Janice.Wingo@trade.gov
To consult with an IP Trade Specialist in China: Joel.Blank@trade.gov or Michael.Mangelson@trade.gov
Disclaimer: Online advertising and sales platforms are discussed and relevant links are provided for the convenience of the public only. ITA neither endorses nor guarantees the quality of these online advertising and sales platforms. ITA neither controls nor guarantees the accuracy, timeliness or completeness of the information contained in the websites for which links are provided below. This is a non-exhaustive list and there may be other relevant platforms and resources.
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