Shanghai cityscape. Source: Unsplash/Li Yang

StrategyThe Trends Report
Harvard Business Review

China is reinventing online retail: Five e-commerce lessons for Western companies

Harvard Business Review
15 minute Read

China is both a large and a fast-growing retail market — worth about US$5 trillion in 2020 — and highly digitised. Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has made digital every retailer’s strategic priority, it’s not hard to see why the Economist opened 2021 with a cover story headlined “Why Retailers Everywhere Should Look to China.”

In China online sales have grown about 25% in each of the past seven years and reached about US$1.9 trillion in 2020, when they amounted to some 25% to 50% of total retail (compared with 10% to 20% in the United States). More than 90% of those sales are on mobile devices, compared with less than 50% in the United States. So it should be no surprise that Chinese companies and individuals have led the way in developing video retail, social commerce, community retail, retail-as-a-service, and many other new digital channels, including the super app, which provides an all-in-one experience for consumers by accessing various services and offerings.

Who are these leaders?

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