Imported goods favored amid consumption upgrade

2023-08-23 09:47:16China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

JD employees pack products for cross-border shipment at a warehouse in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, in June. (SHI KUANBING/FOR CHINA DAILY)

Chinese consumers are exhibiting vibrant purchasing power for imported and foreign-branded products, which has become a key driver for upgraded consumption fueled by China's further opening-up and gradual improvement in cross-border logistics and deliveries, industry insiders said.

Sales of imported products on Chinese e-commerce giant JD's online marketplace increased 50 percent between January and May compared with the same period in 2020, with the categories of imported products soaring 114 percent, according to a report from JD's Consumption and Industry Development Research Institute.

Personal care, cosmetics and skincare products, food and beverages, and maternity and infant products are the categories of imported products most favored by Chinese consumers, the report said.

It noted that people between the ages of 26 and 35 are the main consumers of imported products, accounting for 45 percent of buyers. Consumers in the 46 to 55 age group have contributed to the fastest growth in purchases of imported products.

While residents living in first-tier cities have become the primary purchasers of imported products, consumers in lower-tier markets have shown a growing interest in buying such commodities, it added.

China's imports of consumer goods reached 1.93 trillion yuan ($263.8 billion) in 2022, accounting for 11 percent of total imports and more than double the amount in 2012, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

The country has been optimizing the list of imported retail goods for cross-border e-commerce. Last year, 29 product categories with strong demand from consumers, including ski equipment, dishwashers and tomato juice, were added to the list, according to a statement jointly issued by the Ministry of Finance and seven other central government departments.

"Chinese consumers have demonstrated increasing demand for diversified, personalized and niche overseas products that represent new lifestyles, and are paying more attention to the value of the products they buy," said Zhang Zhouping, a senior analyst on business-to-business and cross-border activities at the Internet Economy Institute, a domestic consultancy.

Zhang said that cross-border e-commerce has played a significant role in enriching product supply, bolstering the development of new business models and promoting the recovery of consumption. He called for greater efforts to further optimize the list of imported retail goods for cross-border online purchases.

Li Yanchuan, head of Amazon China Global Store and Prime, said young Chinese consumers, especially Generation Z — born in the mid-1990s and 2000s — think and judge independently while choosing brands, and prefer to pursue niche lifestyles and personalized products.

He noted that sales of fishing, skiing, camping and other outdoor sports equipment have witnessed rapid growth, while virtual reality equipment, hand-drip coffee products, and tableware and kitchen utensils with unique designs have been favored by Chinese shoppers in recent years.

Orders of online cross-border shopping are still mainly being placed in first-tier cities, but residents in second- and third-tier cities have shown rapidly growing purchasing power. Amazon will further enrich cross-border shopping scenarios based on consumers who share similar interests and hobbies, Li added.

Moreover, Chinese consumers splurged during this year's June 18 shopping festival. According to Tmall Global, the cross-border e-commerce site of Alibaba Group, the turnover of 419 new foreign brands doubled in the first four hours of its promotional campaign. More than 40,000 overseas brands participated in the mid-year shopping gala.

The transaction volume of 325 brands on JD Worldwide, JD's cross-border e-commerce platform, surged more than 100 percent year-on-year in the first 10 minutes of the final promotion of the June 18 shopping spree. Imported sunscreen sales jumped 360 percent, luxury watches 170 percent and infant formula milk 200 percent year-on-year, JD said.

Fully tapping into consumption potential and upgrading channels and services in lower-tier cities and rural areas are key measures needed to fuel the recovery of consumption in China, said Pan Helin, co-director of the Digital Economy and Financial Innovation Research Center at Zhejiang University's International Business School.

"With the expansion of domestic demand and advances in emerging retail technologies, China has introduced preferential policies, such as lowering import taxes and expanding the range of goods allowed to be imported," said Zhang Tianbing, head of the Deloitte Asia-Pacific consumer products and retail industry.

The boom in celebrity livestreaming has helped spur cross-border e-commerce purchases by domestic consumers, Zhang said. "Overseas brands are moving to cross-border e-commerce platforms as they expand their distribution channels in light of COVID-19 disruptions to offline retail," he said.

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