As a sociologist I love big ideas, especially those ideas that have big, long legs.
The Asian Century is one of these big ideas which resonates well with me having recently spent 5 years in China working the marketing seams within the digital revolution there. So let’s take the Asian Century for a spin, lift the bonnet and look at some of the social commerce drivers in action.
Diversity, deep and wide
A few clarifiers before we dive into this. The Asian Century really refers to the Chinese Century. Asian markets are extremely diverse, and deep diversity exists within larger markets like China; speaking of them as a single entity can at times reduce analyses meaning. With these caveats in mind, I will throw a spotlight on China, the biggest and brightest fish in the Asia-Pacific bowl.
Dragon in the tank
China has big, very big numbers. With 538 million people online, it’s the world’s largest online population, and 190 million shoppers makes it the second largest online shopping population globally. The 190 million shoppers will quickly become 350 million by 2016, making it the world’s largest Internet retail market. And the numbers just keep getting bigger. However, big numbers are not the only forces at play on this commercial stage. Consumer behavior puts the dragon in the tank.
When you combine how Chinese consumers act online with the number of them acting, you start to see long legs for the term Asian Century, and beyond. Chinese netizens have extremely compelling behavior in that they go online more often, stay online longer, and create and read more content than their US counterparts. Chinese consumers are now more connected to each other than they have been at any other time in history.
As a result, many Chinese consumers look online for community, commerce, choice, and voice. These consumers look to fill gaps found in their local markets, local communications infrastructures, and national systems.
Relations of trust
Trust is one of the biggest issues in China currently and brings unique challenges, opportunities, behaviors, and attitudes. Trust is a central theme for any community, online or not. But in Asian markets, trust is even more of an issue. That’s trust that the product and seller are real and reliable, and that what is being said is authentic and truthful.
For example, a compelling Chinese attitude has consumers trusting internet media above local mainstream media. Trust, or lack thereof, is also played out daily in retail stores across the nation where it is standard practice to ask for your new product to be plugged in, turned on, and tested before you hand over your money, irrespective of the brand.
When making a purchase, Chinese consumers’ first decision needs to be the right one. Lack of after sales support and governance in China means once a consumer makes a purchase, they are most often stuck with that product, good or bad.
Building confidence with tools of trust
Large waves of consumption are always driven by technological innovation, innovation which has typically been applied to forms of production. In today’s global digital revolution, technological innovation is becoming more personal, focusing on consumer behavior and demands over the production process, ushering in the rapid rise of consumer technologies.
In China, the successful consumer technologies are primarily tools which focus upon building and amplifying trust, through conversations with the seller and with other consumers, and product opinions and seller ratings from real product owners online. More trust means more confidence, which means more economic activity. Confidence for Chinese consumers is trusting that the product is real and reliable, that the seller can be trusted, and what is being said is authentic.
Installing tools of trust in the shopping experience
A typical Chinese consumer, who lives in a large modern city, builds trust and has confidence to make an informed purchase through multiple engagements within multiple digital touch-points. Consumers bounce between search engines in Taobao, one of the world’s largest consumer marketplaces and Baidu, China’s dominate search engine. They research blogs, forums, and brand sites for product details. Then they jump back onto Taobao and read onsite product reviews, view the seller’s ranking and feedback, and chat live with the seller before making a Taobao purchase.
Within this shopping experience, consumers, brands and shopping destinations all compete with each other as content providers, all becoming purveyors of trust in the extremely fast, dynamic, noisy, and at times polluted social commerce space. In this cacophony of conversation, whomever can provide easy and timely access to tools of trust, which communicate authenticity, enhance community, and build confidence at the right moment will gain influence and trigger a purchase.