Visitors check out Chinese e-commerce platform JD's international logistics system during a trade expo in Fuzhou, Fujian province, in June. (Photo/CHINA DAILY)
Feng Ziyue, a 31-year-old senior high school teacher in Beijing, usually takes a pass on brick-and-mortar shopping, instead preferring to scroll through websites and apps to find fresh produce, alcoholic beverages, cosmetics and apparel.
Chilean cherries, Norwegian salmon, New Zealand milk, French red wine and eye shadow and moisturizer from Japan arrive in fine shape at her door in just a few days.
"When I was studying abroad, I often bought cosmetics, handbags and electronic devices for my friends back home. After moving back, I found cross-border online shopping very convenient and discounts often available," Feng said.
Feng is among the growing number of Chinese shoppers who are embracing online shopping for high-quality, imported and foreign-brand items. This has become a significant driver for consumers to become more accustomed to spending money on high-quality goods, industry experts said.
People between 26 and 35 make up the demographic that most frequently purchases imports and foreign brands, accounting for nearly half of the total of all age groups, according to a report from the Consumption and Industry Development Research Institute of Chinese e-commerce platform JD.
Smartphones, computers, maternal and infant products, beauty and skincare items and home appliances are the categories most favored by Chinese consumers among all imported products, the report said.
Moreover, the top five countries for imported products are the United States, Japan, France, Germany and Switzerland. Generation Z consumers, those born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s, favor watches, eyeglasses, jewelry and digital products from international brands, whereas senior shoppers prefer food, clothing and alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, it added.
Liu Hui, director of JD's Consumption and Industry Development Research Institute, said overseas brands should pay more attention to smaller cities, speed up digital transformation and design and launch diverse products to better meet consumers' diverse needs.
The transaction volume of more than 1,100 overseas brands on JD Worldwide, JD's imported product platform, more than doubled year-on-year during last year's Singles Day shopping event.
Sales of imported digital products and home appliances surged dramatically, with computer sales up fivefold, camera products rising by 158 percent and gaming equipment up 125 percent compared with the previous year.
China 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.
"Young Chinese consumers, especially Gen Z, use independent thinking and judgment when choosing brands, and they prefer to pursue niche lifestyles and personalized products," said Li Yanchuan, head of Amazon China Global Store and Prime. For instance, virtual reality equipment, camping gear and ski supplies have been increasingly favored by Chinese shoppers.
Li said the "stay-at-home economy" has created more shopping opportunities and needs, and shopping for healthy, quality-of-life products has become the new normal. Beauty, personal care and clothing have been the most popular categories among consumers in cross-border online shopping, he added.
Although orders using that type of shopping are mainly from first-tier cities, residents living in smaller cities have shown rapidly growing purchasing power, Li said, adding that the company will further enrich its cross-border shopping offerings based on consumers who share similar interests and hobbies.
"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 Deloitte Asia-Pacific consumer products and retail industry.
The boom in celebrity livestreaming has spurred cross-border e-commerce purchases by domestic consumers, Zhang said, adding that overseas brands are moving to cross-border platforms as they expand their distribution channels in light of COVID-19 disruptions to offline retail.
"The penetration rate of cross-border e-commerce in lower-tier cities and townships has been increasing in the past few years. Chinese consumers are demonstrating rising demand for diversified, personalized and niche products from abroad," said Chen Tao, an analyst with internet consultancy Analysys in Beijing.
He added that online shopping via livestreaming videos — an easy way for domestic consumers to find detailed information on overseas products — is very popular among the post-80s and post-90s generations of consumers.