China: The incredible boom in ‘social selling’


Buying on your mobile is just so easy in China. All sites and social networks have developed extremely simple customer experiences that allow you to buy anything and everything with a single fingerprint, and an increasing number of Chinese consumers are taking this opportunity to develop their own businesses. We take a look at this booming practice with Altavia Key Account Director Stéphane Joly.


Everything is designed with easy instant purchasing in mind

Sales made via social networks are much more advanced in China than anywhere else in the world, and this real phenomenon is only going to grow further. All e-commerce sites – such as Tmall (Alibaba), Taobao (Alibaba) and -, platforms and even social networks have, in fact, developed extremely simple processes designed to allow anyone to complete a purchase in just a few seconds. “A man films himself trying on a pair of trainers, for example, and really bigging them up“, says Stéphane Joly. “Anyone watching the video can then press their screen at any time to buy the shoes shown. They just need to enter the size and colour of their choice and press their thumb to the sensor to complete the transaction. Everything happens automatically, and of course delivery is free of charge!”.   There’s no room for hesitation or complications – the whole process is perfectly smooth and painless. Everything is integrated into these super-apps that the Chinese are so fond of. “Buying on your mobile is so easy”, Stéphane explains. “It’s hard to fully appreciate this without trying it for yourself…”.


Influencers as salespeople

There are many well-known bloggers on the Internet and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) with millions of followers are pretty common in China. The impact that their publications have on the purchasing process, which is so much easier to begin with, is already very widely recognised. Within We Chat, for example, influencers can create their online stores and showcase products from the brands they have selected, which their followers can then buy directly via the app.


But China is also unusual in that it has hundreds of thousands of native consumers, ordinary Joe Bloggs types, who have launched their own sales businesses on networks such as Tmall, Taobao, Little Red Rook and Pinduoduo, Stéphane explains. “Anyone can film themselves showcasing products live in their garages or living rooms, answer questions, manage the sale and arrange delivery. China has many influencers-turned-household-names that have started selling socks, paper, electrical cables and even beauty products that they have either made themselves or brought back from abroad on a wholesale basis and made a business out of selling them retail”. These amateur micro-influencers can be followed by 10,000, sometimes 20,000 Chinese consumers and also have a real impact on physical business. Not surprising when you think that live sales in the Taobao (the Chinese eBay) trading community alone amounted to some $13 billion in 2018.