The 7 Wonders of Selling into China

China is one of the fastest-growing markets, and small business owners shouldn’t be intimidated by perceived complexity around regulations or not being able to connect with a new culture and customer base. By thoughtfully making small changes to business and marketing methods as well as taking advantage of the myriad resources available, entrepreneurs can easily navigate these international waters.

Last year’s Singles’ Day proved that Chinese consumers have a huge appetite for online shopping– with more than $9 billion in sales. And when it comes to peak sales seasons, the Lunar New Year week experienced an annual sales growth of 13.3 percent, totaling more than $100 billion.

How can small business owners overcome language barriers, cultural differences and shipping challenges to increase sales in China – one of this year’s hottest international ecommerce markets? Here are seven key considerations when selling to China:

1. Ensure Supply Meets Demand

Making shoppers wait weeks for their orders while you struggle to meet demand will make them unlikely to purchase from you again. So before you do anything, ensure you have the ability to ramp up production. This is particularly crucial given the sheer population density of China.

2. Stand Out with Free Shipping

PayPal research shows that free shipping can help your products stand out– 46 percent of Chinese shoppers view free shipping as a must when buying from overseas online stores, and 50 percent feel the same about free return shipping.

3. Most Popular Products

The top two Chinese sales growth categories are leisure, hobby and outdoors goods (expected to grow 25 percent) and baby and children’s supplies (expected to grow 21 percent). Below is a top 10 list of the most popular products that Chinese consumers are currently buying online from overseas:

  • Clothing/apparel, footwear and accessories
  • Cosmetics/beauty products
  • Consumer electronics, computers/tablets/mobiles & peripherals
  • Baby/children’s supplies, equipment and accessories (excluding clothes/footwear)
  • Jewelry/watches
  • Groceries, food, drink and alcohol (whether consumed inside or outside the home)
  • Household appliances, household goods and furniture
  • Travel and transportation (e.g. hotel, tours, airline / train / bus tickets)
  • Health products (e.g. bandages, over-the-counter medicine) and Entertainment/education (digital/downloadable/online)
  • Entertainment/education (physical items)


4. Go Mobile

China has the world’s largest smartphone user base with over 521 million smartphones. It’s simply impossible to ignore m-commerce­ – 68 percent of Chinese online shoppers have purchased via mobile in the past 12 months. Don’t forget to sell via an app – 59 percent of Chinese smartphone shoppers prefer using an app over shopping via browser.

5. Taking time to Translate

Nearly half (42 percent) of Chinese online shoppers said that having a website available in their language would encourage them to shop cross-border. China has a number of dialects, but Mandarin is the primary language and will likely appeal to the largest number of potential buyers.

6. Simplify Payments

Chinese consumers that purchase cross-border are after convenience first and foremost – 63 percent of them cite convenience as their main motivation for buying online.

7. What Not to Sell

Every culture has its own taboos and customs. In some cases, ecommerce merchants should avoid selling items to Chinese shoppers with red font or in sets of four – it’s often considered unlucky to write in red ink and the word for four in Cantonese sounds like the word for death.

Melissa O’Malley is Director of Global Merchant and Cross Border Trade Initiatives at PayPal.

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