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Guangzhou Pioneers Overseas Online Shopping via Conventional Stores

Following the establishment of three experimental cross-border e-commerce physical stores, Guangzhou has taken a lead in this sector among mainland cities, providing both challenges and huge opportunities for Hong Kong businesses.

Photo: The MeijoyBest store in the Pearl River New City.
The MeijoyBest store in the Pearl River New City.
Photo: The MeijoyBest store in the Pearl River New City.
The MeijoyBest store in the Pearl River New City.

Cross-border online shopping is now increasingly popular on the mainland. The practice, known as Haitao, sees consumers ordering products via overseas online shopping platforms, with the goods then dispatched by international couriers or collected and shipped to China by forwarding agents. Its popularity has been spurred by the comparatively limited range of overseas goods available across the mainland and the premium prices of such items when available.

Overall, a considerable number of mainland cities have been approved to join the pilot programme for cross-border e-commerce, but only six cities – Shanghai, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Zhengzhou and Guangzhou – have been assigned the right to undertake comprehensive import-export activities. This has given these cities the chance to establish conventional outlets designed to facilitate overseas online shopping. Guangzhou has been at the forefront of maximising this opportunity.

Three cross-border e-commerce businesses – MeijoyBest (Guangzhou MeijoyBest E-commerce Co Ltd), 020 and Yen City – have recently commenced operation in the city. A fourth, Nansha Cross-Border Direct Shopping Experience Centre, will open shortly. On its first day of trading, nearly 100,000 people visited MeijoyBest's 230 square metre store, a clear indication of the huge demand for imported goods on the part of Guangdong consumers.

Overall, there are four key reasons why overseas online shopping stores are proving highly popular:

1. Lower Prices
Overall, prices tend to be some 30%-60% cheaper than similar goods available elsewhere. According to the procedures for general trade, imported goods are required to pay three taxes – a customs tariff, VAT and a consumption tax. The tax rates vary according to the category of the goods. The tax rate for cosmetics, for example, can be as high as 50%. Additionally, every logistics step in the distribution of a product, from the importing agent to wholesalers and retailers, adds to the overall cost. As overseas online shopping physical stores place orders online and collect goods offline, the only tax payable is on baggage and personal postal articles, thus greatly reducing the overall tax burden. Furthermore, these stores are also entitled to offer tax exemptions for single purchases with a value of less than Rmb50. This, together with the lack of a daily ceiling (though each purchase may not exceed Rmb1,000 in value and the unit price of indivisible commodities may not exceed Rmb1,000), greatly boosts consumer's inclination to spend.

The tax on baggage and personal postal articles is a form of import tax levied by the Chinese customs on baggage and articles carried by incoming travelers, as well as on personal postal articles. This tax has four tax bands – 10% (food, toys, and books and periodicals), 20% (textiles, home electrical appliances and audio-visual equipment), 30% (high-end watches and golf clubs), and 50% (tobacco, wine and spirits, and cosmetics).

2. Peace of Mind and Authentic Items
There have been a number of instances of e-commerce sites selling counterfeit goods over recent years. There has also been a high number of cases where people did not receive goods they had paid for. These incidents have prompted consumers to return to physical retail channels, seeing them as representing a lower risk. Typically, consumers have greater faith in goods they can actually touch and examine and that they can pay for in situ.

The sales at overseas online shopping physical stores are monitored in real-time by the relevant government departments. The sources and quality of goods and the monitoring procedures are more transparent than is the case with online only shopping, thus avoiding the aforementioned problems. Guangdong consumers seem to have welcomed these overseas online shopping physical stores as a preferred and more trustworthy purchase route.

3. On-site Collection
According to Tao Zili, Chairman of Meijoybest E-Commerce Co Ltd, on-site pick-up is only possible at the company's physical store in the Guangzhou Bonded Area. Its Guangzhou Pearl River New City store still has to dispatch online orders to consumers. Upon customs approval, the purchase is dispatched from the bonded area and delivered by the appropriate logistics companies. This process takes up to 48 hours, faster than the existing delivery arrangement for goods purchased at overseas online shopping websites. Tao is currently building a 50,000 square metre overseas online shopping physical store in the Guangzhou Bonded Area, which is due to open in June this year. This new store will allow on-site pick-up and provide shoppers with an experience very similar to that of their conventional day-to-day shopping. This facility is expected to provide an additional boost to the uptake of overseas online shopping in the city.

The physical store at Pearl River New City is in fact primarily a promotional outlet for its overseas online shopping mall in the bonded zone. In order to attract customers, the Pearl River New City store has a "duty paid section". All goods sold here have the three taxes pre-paid and are available for immediate on-site collection. The downside, though, is that prices are very similar to conventional market prices elsewhere in the city.

Photo: The Duty Paid…
The Duty Paid…
Photo: The Duty Paid…
The Duty Paid…
Photo: …and Duty Unpaid sections at MeijoyBest.
…and Duty Unpaid sections at MeijoyBest.
Photo: …and Duty Unpaid sections at MeijoyBest.
…and Duty Unpaid sections at MeijoyBest.

4. Removing Language and Transaction Obstacles
The majority of overseas ecommerce sites are not available in Mandarin (typically featuring an English interface). If consumers encounter problems with their purchases, they must make long-distance calls and communicate with the vendor who often does not speak Chinese. This is obviously far from convenient for either party. As an additional problem, many of the credit cards issued by mainland banks are not accepted by overseas shopping websites. Establishing overseas online shopping physical stores on the mainland tackles both of these problems head on.

In terms of Hong Kong businesses, the emergence of these stores has two clear implications:

Photo: The Nansha Cross-Border Direct Shopping Experience.
The Nansha Cross-Border Direct Shopping Experience.
Photo: The Nansha Cross-Border Direct Shopping Experience.
The Nansha Cross-Border Direct Shopping Experience.

1. Fewer Cross-Border Shopping Trips by Guangdong Residents
While the prices for most goods at these stores are higher than those for similar goods in Hong Kong (after taking the tax on baggage and personal postal articles into account), if travel time and costs are factored in, however, it is still cheaper than purchasing directly in Hong Kong. This will inevitably have an impact on Hong Kong's retail business and reduce trade between the two cities. On the upside, though, it may help to alleviate the problem of grey market goods that is currently causing considerable concern in Hong Kong.

2. Greater Access to Domestic Sales Channels
As there are no restrictions on the kinds of goods sold in these stores, there is considerable scope for Hong Kong-sourced items. Tao, for instance, welcomes the opportunity for increased co-operation with Hong Kong suppliers. As MeijoyBest will take care of issues relating to taxation, promotion, marketing and logistics, this gives Hong Kong firms with no marketing network in Guangdong a streamlined route into the massive mainland market.

In terms of the operation of these stores, Tao believes there are three key elements required for success – a seller system (management of supply and suppliers); a sales system (e-commerce platform and payment system); and a logistics system (management of dispatch and transportation of goods). These all require customs approval and must comply with the relevant customs monitoring systems. While Tao was reluctant to disclose the exact amount of investment required to deliver this, he did indicate that an eight-figure sum went into developing these three systems over last two years.

Wayne Chung, Guangzhou Office

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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