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Market Avenue

Expat's Eye
Expat's Eye
UPDATED: April 14, 2014 NO. 16 APRIL 17, 2014
Living in the World of Online Shopping
By Nicole Sy


In a span of less than three months, I've amassed a fairly impressive portfolio of things I've purchased online. Going from a complete newb on the Chinese Internet to an online shopping maven, I've bought things ranging from clothes, cellphone cases, wine, ribbons, a humidifier, stickers, coffee filters, pans, butter, sugar, facial wash, film, an air purifier… the list goes on.

I was completely fascinated by China's e-commerce market and its extremely efficient delivery services. As I ventured into the online shopping world, many things continuously took me by surprise. I learned the hard way how aggressive sellers got when you gave a neutral rating (that's a big no-no) and how a single website generated $3 billion in sales in 24 hours. That's more money than the individual GDPs of 33 countries in 2012, according to UN numbers.

Back in November, I wondered how Chinese people had that much expendable income to buy billions of dollars worth of mostly useless things. I'm still not really sure. All I know is that I got swept up in the online sale madness too and purchased six bottles of wine at the stroke of midnight on November 11, China's biggest online shopping sale day. It was an amazing deal. My friend bought a treadmill. She said she got an amazing deal too.

China's e-commerce market is nothing like anything that was available back in Canada. Here, sellers battle to the death for the lowest prices and highest reviews in the C2C market (consumer to consumer). The B2C (business to consumer) platform is consolidated into a few major players. Gone are the days you'd have to hop from one website to another and pay three separate transactions for one outfit.

And what about the delivery system, China's intricate maze of delivery boys (I've never seen a delivery lady)? My favorite argument with the delivery boys is trying to explain to them that my building exists. Yes, there is definitely a building 9. In fact, I'm in it right now.

But for all my gripes about my non-existent building, domestic delivery is remarkably efficient and available at reasonable rates. I once had my month-old Nexus 5 cellphone sent to me from Shanghai to Beijing, after being reassured by the lovely SF lady over the phone that it was safe.

I started online shopping using the Lakala payment method, via the same POS machines one uses to add money to their electricity bills. That soon proved too tedious and I finally picked up a number and waited an hour and a half at the bank to open my online banking account. The ins and outs of online banking as a foreigner in China still confuse me, but it set me up for some quick and easy shopping purchases. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The convenience is unparalleled, and the user reviews, which I go on to judge a product, are usually accurate descriptions. Instead of seeing the product and judging for yourself, you read about it and have others judge for you.

A few months on and with the novelty wearing off, I've toned down with my online purchases. After all, there are some things one cannot purchase online (like shoes), and I've ventured back out into the real world. With the tempting spring weather beckoning me outside, I have a feeling my time online is winding down.

I know though that I'll never truly stop shopping online. I'll go back for the occasional hard-to-find products knowing that a thorough online search produces plenty of results to choose from. Also, I finished my six bottles more than a month ago.

The author is a Canadian living in Beijing

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