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Cross-border e-commerce adds twist to consumer tale

By Liu Zhihua | China Daily | Updated: 2022-07-11 10:22
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An employee loads cargo bound for South Africa at Qingdao Port, Shandong province. [Photo by ZHANG JINGANG/FOR CHINA DAILY]

I can't remember the last time I bought skincare and cosmetic products at a physical shop. Not that I've stopped using them. Truth to tell, like most other women I know, I do buy and use them.

Only, I buy them online. E-commerce platforms retail such products at lower prices, often via sales promotions. For instance, two 50-ml facial cream bottles of a certain brand are sold for around 800 yuan ($119.27) at physical stores. The same package retails for 600 yuan online sometimes.

Cross-border e-commerce has added a new dimension to the consumer market in China. Imported products are available online now, that too at lower prices. That's convenience squared. For the same reason, Chinese exporters are hitting pay dirt overseas.

Cross-border e-commerce is imparting growth impetus to China's foreign trade at a time of multiple challenges. Particularly during the last two years, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, offline stores took a severe beating, while online business activity picked up.

Customs data showed China's imports and exports via cross-border e-commerce reached 434.5 billion yuan during the first quarter of this year. Experts said the format's features like online marketing, online transactions and contact-free payments proved useful in the context of COVID curbs.

Last year, trade value generated by China's cross-border e-commerce swelled by nearly 10 times to 1.92 trillion yuan from five years ago. Even during COVID outbreaks, the business wasn't affected much, thanks to the use of warehouses in and outside China.

So far, China has seen the establishment of more than 30,000 enterprises related to cross-border e-commerce, with the number soaring every year.

Alibaba Group's foreign trade platform said it is obvious that Chinese suppliers are growing their share of the upscale markets overseas. An increasing number of small and midsized Chinese enterprises are using digital tools to expand into global markets.

On AliExpress, Alibaba's business-to-customer or B2C site that sells consumer goods to overseas markets, the number of Chinese sellers with yearly revenues exceeding $1 million has surged by more than 43 percent since 2020.

More supportive measures are also expected to propel healthy growth of cross-border e-commerce.

Li Xingqian, an official with the Ministry of Commerce, said at a recent news conference that the ministry, along with other government departments, has been stepping up efforts to further improve the business climate for cross-border e-commerce firms.

Policy measures will be introduced as soon as possible to make it easier for consumers to return and exchange goods on cross-border e-commerce platforms. The authorities concerned are also studying policies to encourage the establishment of overseas warehouses by multiple types of market entities, Li said.

China began setting up cross-border e-commerce pilot zones as early as 2015 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, to test the new business format and digitalize its trade channels.

In February, the country announced its sixth batch of 27 cross-border e-commerce pilot zones, bringing the total to 132.

Although it's difficult to return goods bought on cross-border e-commerce platforms now, I never felt the need to do so until now. But, I expect returns will soon be easier, which will increase my comfort level.

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