51% of Chinese shoppers who have purchased foreign products online in the past year say they will buy more Western goods in the year ahead. Product quality is the main reason they buy goods from the West, according to the survey of 1,000 consumers who shop on the Tmall Global marketplace for foreign brands.

China’s relations with the U.S. and Europe may be strained, but many Chinese consumers still want their Nike sneakers and Burberry trench coats.

A May 2022 survey of 1,000 Chinese online shoppers who have purchased cross-border in the past year shows 51% say they plan to buy more from Western brands in the year ahead.

Western brands should feel bullish about sustained interest from Chinese consumers during the next year.
Chris Vincent
Pattern

“Western brands should feel bullish about sustained interest from Chinese consumers during the next year,” says Chris Vincent, chief international officer at Pattern. Pattern is a U.S. company that helps brands sell on online marketplaces worldwide. Among the product categories attracting the most interest for foreign brands today are vitamins and nutritional supplements, where Chinese shoppers particularly value quality and authenticity, Vincent says.

The primary reason China’s web shoppers look to Western brands is their quality. 60% of survey respondents cited that, followed by wanting products that are unique or that match their style.

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Chinese consumers boycott some Western brands over Xinjiang comments

While the survey suggests many Chinese consumers still want to buy Western goods, the results suggest that cross-border shopping is not at the top of everyone’s plans for the year ahead. While 51% said they plan to buy more Western goods than previously, a larger 67% said they plan to shop more online in general. 54% said they would shop more cross-border. That could include buying from brands in such Asian countries as Japan and South Korea, but not from Europe or the U.S.

Some Western brands are feeling the impact of a backlash against campaigns that criticize China’s human rights record, including its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Both Nike and Adidas suffered sharp losses in online sales in China last year from a consumer boycott that followed those brands expressing concern over reports of forced labor in Xinjiang.

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At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic likely spurred more online shopping for foreign goods. The Chinese government has prevented Chinese consumers from traveling abroad for the past two years. The number of Chinese consumers who shopped for foreign goods on the web increased to 160 million in 2021 from 140 million the year before, according to Alibaba’s official Alizila blog.

The consumers Pattern and market research firm OnePoll surveyed all had shopped in the past year on Tmall Global. Tmall Global is a marketplace Chinese ecommerce leader Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. operates that features products from foreign brands. Pattern says Tmall Global did not commission the study and that Pattern surveyed Tmall Global users because that is the most popular platform among Chinese cross-border shoppers, with 100 million active users.

Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall marketplaces rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the Digital Commerce 360 2022 Online Marketplaces database. The database ranks multi-merchant shopping sites around the world by total sales.

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Other findings from the survey about cross-border products:

  • Apparel and accessories topped product categories list that survey respondents purchased from abroad in the past year, cited by 78%. Next came personal care products (71%), food and beverages (including alcohol) 69% and computers, smartphones and other digital products (64%).
  • 85% of respondents cited Tmall Global as among their favorite channels for cross-border online shopping. Alibaba rival JD.com followed at 53%, as did and Amazon.cn, an Amazon site that sells foreign goods to Chinese consumers, at 39%. However, the survey queried only consumers who had shopped on Tmall Global, skewing the results to that marketplace.
  • 21% of respondents said they expect foreign products purchased online to arrive the same day or next day. 46% said they expect them in two to five days. And 33% said they’re willing to wait more than five days.
  • Cross-border shoppers in China are slightly more likely to be female. Most are between ages 25 and 44.
  • Asked which Chinese social media channels most influence their cross-border buying decisions, 61% said Douyin (the domestic version of TikTok). 57% said Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book, a social shopping platform). And 55% said WeChat (similar to Twitter) and 50% messaging app Weibo.

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