E-commerce drives China's stay-at-home economy in coronavirus aftermath

The new coronavirus outbreak has significantly changed consumer behavior in China and could intensify the rivalry between Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. in the low-priced online grocery segment, but the broader outlook for the year remains grim as customers shun high-priced discretionary goods.

As the country shifted to what has been dubbed a stay-at-home economy, consumers ordered fewer restaurant takeouts and cooked more, bought more home cleaning and personal hygiene products, and ordered fewer fashion and discretionary items, according to an analysis of data released by the Chinese government and e-commerce companies. Sales of items such as yoga mats, pajamas and kitchen utensils also surged.

Alibaba and Tencent-backed JD.com Inc. reported that online sales of grocery, fresh produce and consumer essentials grew manifold during the quarantine, driving up the country's online retail sales of physical goods by 3% to 1.123 trillion yuan in the first two months of the year.

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While the growth in online sales was significantly slower compared to a 19.5% rise in the year-ago period and an overall 20% increase in 2019, analysts said it was better than expected as overall retail sales plunged 20.5% year over year during the two-month period.

The slower year-over-year sales growth was a result of low demand for high-valued discretionary items as consumer spending focused largely on cheaper groceries and essential goods. china ecommerce market

Grocery wars

China's online grocery market is now expected to grow 62.9% in 2020 to 264 billion yuan compared to a 29.2% growth in 2019, iiMedia Research reported March 17.

During the first two months of 2020, online sales of food items increased 26.4% compared to 20.2% in the same period a year ago. Essential goods was another category that saw a significant growth at 7.5% during the period, but it was lower than 20.8% in 2019. Apparel sales fell 18.1%, compared to a 15.6% increase a year ago.

Alibaba and rival JD.com, which have invested heavily in online groceries and cold chain supply, are best placed to take advantage of the shift in shopping behavior and are expected to battle for dominance in the online grocery space.

Alibaba's Hema and JD.com's 7Fresh supermarkets offer round-the-clock deliveries for online orders. JD.com backer Tencent also holds stakes in Pinduoduo Inc. and niche online grocery startup MissFresh.

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"The last two months of quarantine has reshaped consumers' purchase and transactional behavior to shift more towards online," said William Chuang, Asia equity portfolio manager at AXA Investment Managers. "The biggest winner is likely to be online grocers where consumers can find the cheapest price and convenience."

In contrast, restaurant food delivery services were badly hit due to restaurant closures and safety concerns, said Ming Lu, head of China TMT research at Aequitas Research.

Discretionary goods lose appeal

The surge of online sales in grocery items and fresh produce is unlikely to result in significant gross merchandise value growth for e-commerce companies as these are low-cost items.

"We are still buying things, but many are still spending on lower-priced items," said Shawn Yang, managing director of China-based investment management and advisory firm Blue Lotus Capital.

Analysts said spending on discretionary items such as clothes, cosmetics, skin care and large items like furniture is likely to remain low with weakened consumer sentiment. For example, Chinese consumers washed their hair on fewer occasions during the periods when they were not allowed to leave their homes, according to a report by Kantar Worldpanel.

Yang cautioned that retailers who are not able to clear their inventory for these categories may have to slash prices, which would in turn lead to lower income for the large e-commerce companies.

Alibaba, JD.com and Pinduoduo have pledged to waive commission rates and subsidize deliveries to help merchants overcome financial difficulties during the outbreak, which is likely to hit revenue. Platforms like Alibaba's Taobao, which relies on advertising revenue instead of transaction fees, are also expected to be hit by low ad spend as the economy slows.

"As long as they want to support these merchants, the e-commerce companies will have to wait until COVID-19 is over to be back to normal," said Morningstar analyst Chelsey Tam.

Several Chinese e-commerce players have already issued cautious outlooks for the current quarter, and Chuang believes that the domestic recovery could be at risk this year.

The silver lining

International Women's Day campaigns by Alibaba's TMall and JD.com revealed that there is some pent-up demand for discretionary items.

JD.com said sales of cosmetics and skin care items increased 97% year over year on March 8, with SK-II, Lancôme, L'Oréal SA, Olay and Pechoin the five best-performing brands. The event was the first major online shopping festival since the coronavirus outbreak.

"Soaring sales of lipsticks, aided by livestreaming, indicate that consumers' willingness to spend is high. There is definitely a pent-up demand," said Tam.

Industry observers said platforms like Alibaba and JD.com with robust delivery capabilities will stand to benefit in the coming months.

JD.com, which owns its inventory and has an established logistics network, is expected to pose a far stronger challenge to Alibaba than Pinduoduo, a relatively new entrant with lower stock of necessity items and poorer logistics services, analysts said.

"When you start to worry about inconsistent supply, orders that have not arrived, whether domestic or international, that's another motivation to stick to the big guys," said Jerry Clode, founder of Shanghai-based digital consultancy The Solution. "It's a fundamental shift in mindset for the immediate period."



In addition, China is now the largest Internet market in the world with more than 800 million Internet users it has a penetration rate of 64% of the population. It is alongside the growth of the unique Chinese web that e-commerce is expanding exponentially.


E-commerce is so popular in China because it’s significantly easier for a lot of Chinese consumers to shop online rather than offline. In fact, if they live in small, third-tier cities they can have online access to different kind of products they couldn’t find before.

They can also compare prices online with product and cost comparison one of the most powerful buying triggers for Chinese consumers.

They can escape crowded malls and receive their products much faster than in the West due to an incredibly advanced and extensive delivery infrastructure.

China E-commerce platforms are also growing more developed, user friendly and embracing digital payments for the consumer’s ease and convenience.


If you’re looking to sell your products on the B2C market, here is the market share figures for the most successful e-commerce platforms in China. Tmall & JD are very powerful and can’t be avoided if you’re looking to sell products to Chinese consumers.

Marketshare gentlemen marketing agency

If you’re trying to sell in B2B, then you can’t escape Alibaba which is still dominating China’s B2B market in terms of revenue with a 44.13% of market share, followed by HC360 (4.86%) and Global Sources (4.69%).


Every company looking to enter the Chinese e-commerce market needs to adapt it’s strategy and needs local partners. More than just a simple services provider, we’ll be your guide in the complex maze that is the Chinese E-Commerce market to help you reach your goals.

Here is how we’ll proceed:

Market analysis: We’ll analyze the market, your competitors and be able to identify the growth opportunities in your industry as well as the challenges.

Then by studying the shopping behavior of your target, we can establish a strategy in order to reach your goals.

Here is the sales funnel for the e-commerce transaction in China:


It’s crucial to understand this model and be able to adapt it to your company is to succeed in the Chinese e-commerce market.

E-commerce Consulting: We’ll be able to give you advice on which platforms are most suitable for your project and create a custom made, multi-channel strategy.

Design Strategy: Once the most appropriate platforms have been selected, we’ll set up and design your e-commerce website and drive qualified traffic through intelligent ad placement.

Marketing and Promotion: Our focus is to promote your e-commerce business with your target closely in mind. To sell, you need to be visible & reputable. In order to achieve this we can use digital tools including; Baidu SEO and SEM, E-PR, Media Buying (DSP) & Community Management. Then, we’ll manage the campaign and assure it’s optimisation & success.

We will make sure that your e-commerce website will be profitable, we’re an ROI-focused agency. The solution is to attract and also re-target the most qualified traffic in order to increase conversion rates.

We’ve already worked on a host of e-commerce projects and know how to effectively promote your e-commerce business in China by engaging with the latest digital tools & cutting edge strategy.

If you’re interested in being part of the Chinese market and want to reach your Chinese target you need to adopt the most intelligent strategy.

Our dedicated team can offer an e-commerce plan for China’s Online Marketplace that will be adapted to your products and target. Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.

Digital Marketing in China

Algorithm Updates

It’s an exciting time to begin to get into Baidu SEO, particularly when it comes to the direction the search engine is taking with its ranking factors and algorithm updates. While born in a similar image to Google back in 2000, many have accrued the notion that Baidu optimisation still lingers in the shade of black hat SEO tactics where spammy link-building and the relentless churning out of low-quality content will propel you to the top. Since the release of two key spam-battling algorithm updates on 2013 however, things are certainly changing, and it’d be advisable to keep tabs on these two updates.

Money Plant (绿萝)

Released in February 2013, Money Plant is intended to combat link spam and penalise link farms and those who partake in public link trading platforms.

Pomegranate (石榴)

Rolled out in May 2013, Pomegranate seeks to punish sites that overload users with excessive ads, particularly of the pop-up kind (the likes of which are often found in pirate sites in China). Seen as a real indication that Baidu is moving towards a Panda-style manner of penalising sites with poor quality content.

Content Research & Marketing in China

The Chinese internet currently plays host to a vibrant hive of creative activity and much like other more technical aspects of Chinese SEO, is ever-evolving and full of opportunity. With an increasingly-savvy and tuned-in online demographic as well as some cutting edge developments on content format, functionality and technology, now is a great time to jump in and apply what we know from our content experiences in the West and make sure it’s localised and tuned-up properly for the Chinese market. First things first though, where do we go to find out what’s hot on the content circuit in China? We can rely on our existing means and tools of content research (such as the wonderful BuzzSumo and Ahrefs) to an extent, though to get a finer picture, the best option is to do things the Chinese way. Here are a few great tools to check out:

Baidu Feng Yun Bang 百度搜索风云榜

Baidu Feng Yun Bang, essentially Google Trends (and then some), is a fantastic place to go discover what the Chinese internet is talking about in almost any capacity. Here’s a screenshot of its main interface to help with some of its sections:

Furthermore, Feng Yun Bang allows you to get really, really granular in your exploration of hot topics, which is important given China’s size and cultural diversity. Below is a screenshot of the location search section of Feng Yun Bang, where you can search by category in individual provinces and cities and really get stuck into what your target demographics are talking about:

Baidu Index 百度指数

To complement Feng Yun Bang, Baidu Index also serves as a handy Google Trends / AdWords-like platform allowing you to harness data on particular keyword searches and inform content marketing strategies by identifying opportunities within your target market.

Carrying on with the theme of granularity and data customisation, Baidu Index also allows you to analyse keyword trends by city, province, time period and more as well as allowing you to delve further into data on related keywords and their own levels of popularity. Here are a few screenshots to walk you through its key functionalities following a search for the term “最新电影” (latest movies).

Here’s a look at the main interface:

And here’s a look at the display of the second white tab under the top blue one, entitled “需求图谱” which in this context roughly translates as “related search data map”:

As you can see, your key search term is the one in the blue circle, with key related terms spanning out in hierarchy of popularity. Terms marked orange are ones that have increased in volume over the past month, while the ones in grey are vice versa. In this case, following on from “latest films” we can see that “US TV shows” (美剧) “Chapman To” (Hong Kong actor, 杜汶泽) and “Mr. Bean” (憨豆先生) are currently popular film-related terms.

The bottom left column shows further related terms and an indication of their current popularity, and you can actually click through on these terms to bring up the same display for the particular term you click on. The right hand column shows terms with the biggest percentage increase in volume over your selected time period, with the terms being clickable as well (in case you were wondering, the term with the 1000%+ increase is “Avengers: Age of Ultron”).

The third tab (舆情管家) allows you to explore how often and where your term is being discussed in the online public domain, pulling up results mentioning the keyword in news articles and on Baidu Zhidao:

As you can see, this is incredibly useful for identifying outreach opportunities and for leveraging Baidu Zhidao for opportunities to engage with your target demographic who are asking questions related to your brand.

Finally, the fourth tab (人群画像) offers up a look at some top level demographical data on who and where is searching for your term:

Guide to Baidu SEO & Content Marketing: Increase Your Brand Visibility in China


China. The most populous country in the world. A place where over 640 million internet users buzz away amid an ever-changing sphere of innovation and evolution presenting boundless opportunity for businesses and consumers alike. What’s not to get excited about?

For businesses both domestic and international, or anyone with an involvement in the digital world; China should not be ignored. Yet, when we think of China we think of complexity, cultural differences, internet censorship, language difficulties and more. With the Builtvisible guide to Chinese SEO and Baidu, we’ll show you what you need in order to navigate through the maze of the Chinese internet and obtain the visibility you deserve China-side; be it through correct Baidu SEO optimisation or localised content marketing campaigns.

This guide aims to inform anyone considering embarking on a digital strategy in China with a series of useful insights on the structure and make-up of Baidu, how to rank on Baidu, insights into content research and marketing in China as well as ongoing cultural considerations to take into account. Given Baidu’s dominance in the Chinese world of search we’re going to be focusing on it rather a lot, and for anyone unfamiliar with China’s Google here a few introductory bullet points:

  1. Launched in 2000 in Beijing by Robin Li, with the name “Baidu” (百度) comes from a Song Dynasty poem in which the term is used to describe “a persistent search for the ideal”.
  2. Around 80% total share of China’s search engine market, asserting dominance following Google’s exit of the market in 2010
  3. Handles reportedly over 3.3 billion queries each day
  4. 36.5% of revenue came from mobile in 2014

How to get a Baidu account

Before we delve into Baidu SEO, Chinese content marketing and everything in between, we’re going to show you how to get a Baidu account. This will enable you to action a fair amount of what we’re going through in this guide, and will put you and your site in a handy position moving forward with Baidu SEO.

First, head to this page and fill out the parameters accordingly. Baidu allows you to sign up with verification via a Chinese phone number or, for those of us based elsewhere, by email (thankfully). Here’s a screenshot explanation:


You’ll then get a confirmation email from Baidu to activate your account.

And you’re done! Each time you navigate to a Baidu page or Baidu product page you’ll see your email address in the top right-hand corner, meaning you’re signed in as a Baidu user. If you ever got logged out, click on the login (登录) button in the top right hand corner as shown below.

A Basic Breakdown of the Baidu SERP

Let’s begin with a snapshot of a Baidu SERP to kick things off. Here’s what Baidu shows us when the term “SEO” in Chinese (搜索引擎优化) is searched for:


As you can see, Baidu, much like Google, employs a familiar two column structure. In this example, the SERP displays a variety of related (and sometimes paid) results on the right and what is a mixture of other types of paid results as well as some organic results on the left. What we want to focus on here is the incorporation of Baidu’s own products into the SERP – something of which this picture illustrates the significance when it comes to embarking on SEO for China.

Now, we all know that Google owns its fair share of products– YouTube, Maps, Flights, Docs, News and beyond. Of course, these do pop up in the overall SERP from time to time, however Google has strived to ensure these products a certain degree of their own space and independence outside of the overall SERP. Baidu entails a somewhat different approach however, allowing these sub-products a liberal amount of free-roaming in the SERP space, as illustrated above. In fact, it is estimated that around 30% of Baidu queries are redirected to one of Baidu’s own products, with the overall strength and trust of the domain resonating with Chinese users who often opt to rely on a trusted, dominant brand to find what they’re looking for. So what are these products, which ones deserve your attention, and crucially, how do we leverage them for optimisation? Let’s take a dive in.

As you’d guess, Baidu has its own maps service, video search (compiling videos from several major Chinese YouTube-esque platforms), news and documents tabs. There are of course countless others doing all manner of things (which can viewed here), but let’s take a look at three of the familiar characters that frequently stake their claim in the Baidu SERP: Baike, Tieba and Zhidao.

Baike 百科


Baidu Baike, otherwise known as “Baidu Encyclopaedia” is China’s answer to Wikipedia. While it may not currently have the breadth and depth of Wikipedia (11.9 million articles to Wikipedia’s 35 million across the board) the opportunity lies in just that; as well as the fact that a typical Baidu search query will often display around two Baike results with sub-links to related articles on the very first SERP. Given its prominence in the make-up of the Baidu SERP, SEO opportunity lies not only in the entry of brand or product-related articles but also in the editing of content, images, links and keyword tagging. Given the stringent nature of verification as well as factors such as censorship, this can be a bit of a long march, though the potential for visibility on such a large and prominent platform really speaks for itself.

Zhidao 知道


Baidu Zhidao, or “Baidu Knows”, is a massive Q&A platform that essentially serves as an enhanced Yahoo Answers, allowing users to create and participate in a deep plethora of topics covering anything from advanced computer science to how to cut vegetables correctly. Users can level up, accrue points and can gain reputations as online experts in certain fields based on the number of answers given, up votes on comments and so on. Given a high tendency for Chinese users to search using long-tail, query-based lexicon as well a general overall prominence in the SERP, Zhidao is a force to be reckoned with and can be powerful SEO-wise if leveraged with the correct amount of subtlety.

As with any Q&A-based forum however, Zhidao has prevalent anti-spam efforts. These are also taken up a notch somewhat given that this is China and constant monitoring is simply part and parcel of online life. Obviously, simply searching for questions related to your brand’s sector and posting short answers riddled with links back to your site won’t do, so here are a few tips on leveraging Zhidao for Chinese SEO:

  • Optimise your brand’s Baidu account so it’s as branded and official-looking as can be, and offer up well-informed, credible answers to users who are asking questions related to your brand or its products. This will in time earn trust and reputation from users.
  • An organically placed link within the text of the answer, as long it’s relevant and informative, will be indexed.
  • Why not flip the tables and ask a question yourself? This could be in the form of asking for potential customer opinions on certain products or debates within the remit of your industry, or simply just a call for help on something related to your brand. It’s a great opportunity to get to know your target demographic and the notion of brand-to-customer discussion and dialogue is key when it comes to forging your name in the Chinese market.

Tieba 贴吧

Slightly different yet not vastly dissimilar to Zhidao, Baidu Tieba (or “Post Bar”) is a keyword-based discussion forum where users can follow specific “Bars” (吧) which serve as subreddit-esque BBS spaces and currently boasts around 300 million active monthly users.

As with Zhidao there is opportunity to assert your brand into your target demographic with organic discussion and participation with relevant threads and users.

You also have opportunity to create your own Bar based on your brand (if someone hasn’t done so already!), with the chance to create a hub and redirect users to your forum if they happen to search for your brand in Tieba or Baidu as a whole. This is especially useful if you already have a good degree of brand awareness in China yet have little presence on these platforms.

Currently, the Bar for World of Warcraft has over six million followers and over 420 million threads.



Key SEO and Algorithm Differences

While many of us are familiar with Google’s ranking factors and have a good understanding of the key on-page SEO measures to get your site ranking, there’s little out there in terms of resources with regards to what makes Baidu tick.

Thankfully, the mind-set remains largely the same, and in practice Baidu’s ranking algorithm isn’t too dissimilar to Google’s. However, there are of course some key differences to consider:

Site Architecture and Functionality

  • Keep it simple. At this stage, Baiduspider isn’t as developed as Google’s in terms of crawl power, and favours flat-structured sites in which content is accessible in as few clicks as possible (here’s a useful FAQ on Baiduspider in English).
  • Baidu also doesn’t deal with Flash or JavaScript, so be sure to provide HTML alternative versions of the content.
  • Don’t use Frame and iFrame
  • Keep URL structure short and if possible, use Pinyin (Romanised version of Chinese characters).

Page Titles & Meta Data

  • Much like with Google, make sure title tags and meta data are unique, descriptive and is in keyword optimised Simplified Chinese.
  • Title tag character limit is 80.
  • Google may have renounced them from their ranking factor a while back, but meta descriptions and meta keywords do factor into ranking for Baidu.
  • Meta description character limit is 200, meta keywords is 100.
  • Alt tags and heading tags also have increased prominence in Baidu’s ranking algorithm – be sure to optimise in Chinese accordingly.