E-commerce and Social Media: China vs The West

Social media has dominated the world, however in China both Facebook and Twitter are banned. While Chinese social media exists, it is quite different to what we have in the west. This article highlights some of the key differences and how Chinese social media may be a future competitor for Western social media.

 

Modern life is dominated by social media – that’s hardly revolutionary. However, have you ever considered what social media is like in other countries? Indeed, within China both Facebook and Twitter are prohibited, and in their place other sites are dominating. Yet, I would hesitate to claim these as alternatives to Western social media as they are very unique platforms in their own way, offering quite a lot more integrated features than we have here. This post will briefly go over the key differences between Western and Chinese social media and e-commerce and discuss the potential future of both.
 
Here in the UK our social media is separate from e-commerce. If we want to see what our friends are doing, we check Facebook. If we want a quick look at what’s happening in the world or opinions about events we check Twitter. If we want to buy a random (and likely not really needed) product, we visit Amazon and eBay. We have our different platforms for different services, yet in China the approach is quite different.
 
Enter WeChat, a social media platform often described as an ‘all-in-one’. It allows users to not only communicate with friends, but to connect with strangers, join large group chats, pay for goods, order taxi’s and play games to name a few features. For instance, if someone is looking to buy something, many people in China don’t immediately go to a search engine but instead go straight onto their all-in-one social and e-commerce apps to search for it.
 
This approach has quite a few advantages – namely the interconnectedness of it all. Friends and family can recommend products very quickly and efficiently to you, you can be part of group chats to provide you with the latest products and deals and with the payment system (similar to Apple pay), many Chinese people no longer carry wallets with them as it is so widespread.
 
Due to the vast use of e-commerce – with sales expected to reach annual retail sales within the next few years, meaning half of all purchases in China will have been online – the delivery of products are much more efficient. While this is in part due to the populations size and infrastructure, it is also because it is the culture of China – speed, efficiency and range. There are even companies delivering fresh produce every day to consumers across cities.
 
The comparisons between the use of social media and e-commerce in the West and China are too vast to condense into a single article, mostly because they are so different it is like apples and oranges. The main difference is that in the West we tend to have different platforms and companies for each service and we link them together. In China however, there are a handful of dominant all-in-one platforms in which other companies join to sell and share their products or advertise through.
 
The advantage of this for businesses is that it is much easier to target your consumers. You simply need to set up a store on WeChat or whichever platform you wish to use (TaoBao, Alibaba etc.) and both you can handle customer service, advertising, payments etc. all in one place and customers can easily search for you.
 
While a lot of these features can be seen in Western social media – like Facebook company pages – they haven’t taken off in the same way. It is important to note that earlier this year WeChat hit over one billion users, a figure not seen by any other social media platform, and there are no signs of it slowing down. It may be time to take a step back from a more Eurocentric view of social media and e-commerce as there are some pretty big competitors gaining ground.