China’s major e-commerce sites: an introduction
E-commerce is huge in China, and the sheer convenience it brings is phenomenal; If you can crack online shopping here, you can buy almost anything you need and have items delivered directly to your home or office, usually for less than it would in a brick-and-mortar store or market.
There are many e-commerce sites in China – some focus on a specific niche, but many of them offer a wide range of product categories. Some offer unique items that can’t be found on the Chinese high street, others feature imported items that are simply tough to find in China. Online retailers are also handy for removing the hassle from mundane purchases like phone credit. Here’s an overview of the major online shopping sites and an idea of what they do best. Unfortunately, most are in Chinese language only, but it’s well worth getting the help of friends, or using translation software, to try to engage with at least a few of these.
The big one. Taobao Marketplace allows small businesses and individual entrepreneurs to create their own online retail stores, and you’ll find pretty much everything you can imagine through these. Though it looks like the US site eBay, the overwhelming majority of the products on Taobao Marketplace are brand new merchandise and sold at a fixed price; auctions make up a very small percentage of transactions. Buyers can rate vendors based on a number of criteria, incentivizing vendors to deliver good service.
Plane, train and hotel bookings
Ctrip offers discounted air tickets and hotel rooms in both domestic Chinese and international destinations. Unfortunately, they seem intent on phasing out cash payments, and debit card payments are not accepted. Be prepared to pay by bank transfer or credit card, or using online payment services such as Alipay, Tenpay and China UnionPay Mobile Payments.
Ctrip’s old rival, eLong, offers a similar service, near-identical interface, and more or less the same limitations on payment options – cash payments are increasingly rarely accepted.
This oddly named site is the official website for booking train tickets in China. As with most of the sites on this list, it’s Chinese-language only. You’ll need to register for an account, but the process is mercilessly straightforward for foreigners, and it’s not too difficult to buy tickets.
One minor inconvenience is that there’s no ticket delivery service. You can collect your tickets anytime between booking and your departure time from any ticket office around town (for a five yuan surcharge), or from the ticket office at the station you’re departing from (no surcharge). Chinese travelers can collect their tickets from ticket machines in train stations, but the scanners on these do not recognize foreign passports, so for now this is not an option.
This rapidly growing retailer sells electronics, mobile phones, computers and home appliances, in addition to a number of non-electronic goods.
Amazon’s Chinese operation is slowly building a following after a few false starts, though it still has a lot of catching up to do. As in other countries, Amazon’s site features a huge range of items, from often generously discounted books and e-books (Amazon’s Kindle finally got an official launch in China in 2013) to electrical appliances and food to children’s toys.
Dangdang’s main product categories include household merchandise, cosmetics, digital, home appliances, books, audio, and dozens of clothing and maternal and child categories. As with Amazon, Dangdang is popular among readers because of the great discounts they offer on millions of books.
A bit like a large supermarket, Yihaodian sells food, household products and clothes, but food is their main specialty.
Yihaodian’s “virtual stores” (accessed via their Android and iOS apps) use augmented reality technology to give you the experience of using your phone to “browse” aisles of stacked grocery shelves, scanning QR codes to purchase items on the spot. These virtual stores are “located” in a variety of urban locations, including parks, subway stations and shopping malls.
This site provides all the garments you or your family might need, from T-shirts to children’s clothing. Designs are generally streamlined and simple, and most items cost less than 100 yuan. The quality of the goods is more reliable than Taobao, and you can try your purchases on before your payment is processed. Regular sales are another bonus.
Shangpin and Aolai
Bags and purses
Mbaobao is China’s largest e-commerce retailer of bags and purses.
Want to look pretty? Then head to Jumei, China’s biggest online source of cosmetics.
An electronics retailer in the traditional sense, Suning still retains over 1,000 brick-and-mortar stores across China, but has also transitioned to e-commerce. Offers everything you’d expect them to, from TVs and phones to computers and home appliances.
Gome is Suning’s main rival. In fact, the pair are almost indistinguishable, selling a similar range of items through both their online store and physical shops throughout China
Besides its extensive, crowdsourced reviews of thousands of restaurants and other businesses in China’s major cities, this site offers group buying coupons for restaurants, cinemas, spas and travel fares.
Useful Chinese words and phrases
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