Opinion Piece: Learning from China's ecommerce evolution

Opinion piece by Mona Mato, Trade Commissioner, PTI China - “The digital economy has continued to transform China’s economy as it capitalized on consumer demands via ecommerce platforms, artificial intelligence, and mobile shopping from smartphones." Mona Mato, Trade Commissioner, PTI China

As I reflect on the year that’s been, I think of the confronting impact of COVID-19 on the lives of many people and businesses across the globe. The challenges triggering a turning point for the rapid growth of the digital economy setting a trend and a remarkable shift for international businesses. Today this unprecedented growth gives businesses the opportunity to remain competitive in the marketplace while taking consumers to a more seamless and convenient buying experience.

When COVID-19 hit China in late January 2020 I was in Beijing about to welcome the Chinese New Year Spring Festival celebrations. The government of China immediately implemented stringent measures across the country to better manage and contain the spread of the virus. This led to a significant decline in offline economic activities as lockdowns and border closures were imposed by government. I recall Beijing, the bustling city we knew, became a ‘ghost town’ almost overnight that led to adverse consequences on the delivery of our trade activities that quarter.

However, as lockdowns became the new normal in China, businesses and consumers adapted to the ‘digital’ mode of working taking advantage of being contact-free. Since then, the digital economy has continued to transform China’s economy as it capitalized on consumer demands via ecommerce platforms and increased mobile shopping from smartphones.

This growing trend has been reassuring for us at PTI China, as our Pacific Business Monitor 2021 Annual Survey Report revealed that an increasing number of Pacific businesses are also embracing a diversification of their products and service offerings and are transitioning business activity to online. As the Pacific businesses we work with have grown online over the COVID-19 pandemic, they have reached out for our support to help them access new markets, refine their business marketing plans, and identify platforms to test their products online.

At PTI China, we take every opportunity to participate and engage in China’s growing digital economy to help us better understand the online market, platform, logistics and back-end operations so we can best connect Pacific businesses as they aspire to ‘go digital’.

As part of our Blue Pacific COVID-19 Economic Support Package, a targeted WeChat Public account was set up online to build our Blue Pacific brand and image in China. As part of a series of marketing and promotional activities, the account promoted the Pacific Islands to the Chinese audience, showcasing destination marketing, niche health and wellness products, and the clean and green environment of the Pacific.

Our Blue Pacific platform gained momentum over this time, and at the heights of COVID-19 in the Pacific we launched an online fundraiser on our WeChat Platform to support our small Pacific Island communities recover from the impact of COVID-19 by promoting a series of Blue Pacific merchandise products with an environmental message. Our first lot of online sales generated over USD$3,000 that provided support to a community Poultry Cooperative in the most remote island of Ongo Niuas in Tonga through the assistance of Tonga Health.

To continue building our knowledge of ecommerce platforms, we participated at a recent online charity sale organized by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs featuring pacific products and our merchandise on Taobao and Tmall apps of Alibaba to Chinese consumers. This event was further confirmation that the online sales model greatly improves the efficiency of displaying product information and quality images, which facilitates a seamless customer shopping experience.

While the digital giants in China dominate the online market, at PTI China we continue to explore ways to leverage these platforms, such as Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu, to better communicate market trends, logistics, back-end operations, and ultimately economic opportunities, to our Pacific Businesses.

 PTI China is committed to continue learning from our digitalisation experiences. Our efforts to explore ecommerce opportunities around the theme of Digitalisation 2022 is a priority for our team as we seek to support our Pacific enterprises in the new globalised development paradigm. While there is still some on developing ecommerce in the Pacific. the rollout of the Pacific Regional Ecommerce Strategy also gives us the confidence that in the near future, we will have an enriched enabling ecommerce ecosystem built on digital and trading infrastructure, digital payments and appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks for online transactions and security, that will nurture the growth of Pacific business.      

I cannot help but marvel at the transformation of China’s digital economy to become a global leader today. As new and innovative digital technology emerge to boost the country’s international competitiveness at the wake of COVID-19, we continue to explore and learn from this evolution and build our own Pacific online presence here in China.