How to sell in China from outside via WeChat

Contents

China market is promising. Cross-border commerce can be seen as a relay of growth for brands and businesses outside of China to start entering the Chinese market while minimizing the risk. WeChat which is the primary customer engagement hub in China offers the structure to support this strategy. That’s why WeChat cross-border commerce can be an opportunity for brands outside of China, leveraging WeChat cross-border payment.

This is a chapter we focus on providing you with the foundations of a WeChat cross-border commerce strategy from a platform perspective.

After building the channel to host/sell products, a China-based agency can work in complementary to the platform operator to promote products and services and find an audience.

1. Introduction to WeChat cross-border commerce and China cross-border framework

A bit of context: there are 3 mains touchpoints to sell to Chinese consumers in the ecosystem of the cross-border trade:

  • Overseas retails outlets for Chinese living or travelling abroad or Daigou agents
  • China-based retails outlets through wholesalers/importers/distributors
  • Cross-border commerce

In this chapter, we focus on the latest category of trade and more especially the channels integrated to the WeChat ecosystem.

There are other sales options for cross-border eCommerce which are detailed in the market overview section.

All these sales channels can works in synergy.

What is WeChat cross-border commerce?

China cross-border e-commerce (B2C) is the process to sell products to the Chinese market shipped from abroad without having to register a Chinese company or apply for local product licenses.

China-based customers can purchase products from Japan, Germany, Korea, France, U.S, etc…

WeChat focus means that the online commerce platform exists within WeChat.

In short about WeChat cross-border commerce

Users buy directly from oversea merchants without leaving WeChat app and with a one-click-payment option using WeChat Pay.

Benefits of China cross-border

Confidence of Chinese consumers to shop on foreign websites

Chinese consumers make cross-border purchases because of the product quality, the quality-price ratio, the uniqueness, the guaranteed authenticity.

Lean process with minimum risk

Cross-border eCommerce allows foreign brands to enter China in a cost-effective manner. It requires less capital investment and less inventory risk.

Fast track to initiate business in China

Brands can avoid the hassles of exporting to China and registering product under traditional trade regulation. It does not require lengthy product testing or registration processes.

Business cases

  • Sell products and services to test them (validate product traction)
  • Understand how products might be received
  • Assess what products works best
  • Test a new product line available in markets outside of China
  • See how the market works (where demand comes from, etc…)
  • Understand competitors in China
  • Build your brand awareness in China

These use cases are suitable for smaller brands and retailers.

Depending on the results against these business objectives, merchants should be better informed whether to expand further or not.

How the cross-border e-commerce works in China

Products sold directly to Chinese consumers from outside of China

It is based on specific import trading rules which are different from General Trade.

Importing process happens through fast customs product filing, customs clearance and lower import taxes.

General Trade – Traditional Import tradingCross-border eCommerce trade
Legal EntityChinese local businessOverseas business
Trademark and IP requirementsChinese local registrationChinese registration only
Regulation / PolicyRegarded as bulk goods with CRDA requirements

product registration and legal issues
Regarded as personal articles with no CRDA requirements
TaxTariff + GST + VAT(GST + VAT) x 70% (No tariff)

If you can’t legally sell your product in China thought the General Trade channels, the Cross-border eCommerce becomes the recommended options.

This eliminates the need for wholesalers or importers in the middle. And so there is less mark-up on an imported product sold to a Chinese consumer.

Warehousing for China cross-border

When defining the import strategy, the logistics plan goes along with the selection of the warehouse location from where the products are sent. Then the products can be shipped:

  • individually directly to the buyer (direct shipping) => no warehouse needed
  • in bulk to China to a bonded warehouse (in Hong-Kong or mainland China) from where the order is shipped to the buyer

Several options to store products before orders

Overseas warehouse (EU/US)Banded warehouse in Hong-Kong Bonded warehouse in mainland China
**Warehousing cost**
➕➕➕➕➕
**Warehousing operation**
Shared with other countriesShared with other countriesCommitted to China
**Re-allocation**
N/A for a brand-owned warehouseEasyHard
**Logistics model / option**
Direct shippingBonded ZoneBonded Zone
Key parameters to consider when choosing the warehouse location

  • Volume of products sold to China
  • Product price range

Logistics of WeChat cross-border commerce

Logistics process via cross-border import

  1. Send the goods with cross-border logistics
  2. Store them in a warehouse in Mainland China or in Honk-Hong, except for direct shipping
  3. Clear China Customs with the end client’s information (ID, phone number and valid name)
  4. Deliver in Mainland China with domestics logistics and transportation

Logistics options

There are 2 options:

  • Direct shipping
  • Bonded zone model
Direct shippingBonded Zone
Shipping time5-10 daysFrom Hong-Kong: 4-7 days
From Mainland China: 3-4 days
Shipping cost➕➕
Forex fluctuationLimited riskHigher risk
Return managementChallengingEasy
Upfront investmentLowHigh

More details about direct shipping option

china cross-border commerce | direct shipping

When shipping directly from aboard – the announced delivery time is about a week. But in reality, it takes more 2-3 weeks as products have to go through the logistics and admin processes.

More details about the bonded zone option

china cross-border commerce | bonded warehouse

In the bonded zone model, the warehouse is located in a special bonded zone in Mainland China or in Hong Kong where you can store products as part of the cross-border trade.

These bonded zones are located in a Free Trade Zone (FTZ) which is a cross-border area where Chinese government tests economic reforms and new regulations, with the aim of:

  • opening up the economy
  • simplifying procedures in logistics, warehousing and customs clearance

These FTZ are meant to boost liberalization and facilitation for international trade.

The products stored in the FTZ are under the 3rd party logistics provider care with the following process:

  • Ship goods from the origin country to a bonded warehouse at the FTZ
  • Deliver the products from the FTZ
Key parameters to consider when selecting FTZ location to host your bonded warehouse

  • the experience levels of CIQ staff
  • how advanced their procedures are
  • the category of products being traded

Growing number of Free Trade Zone (FTZ)

New special zones are constantly added, creating a network of nodes across China to serve more efficiently any Chinese consumers.

3rd party logistics provider

The logistics partner plays a pivotal role in the success of any WeChat shop. Terms and conditions must be negotiated and agreed upon with them.

Key parameters to consider when selecting a logistics operator

  • The type and cost of storage
  • Do they have English language skills?
  • Do they offer a China-wide service?
  • Delivery costs and times
  • Can they provide customer service and manage returns?
  • Can they send real-time information about current stock at the bonded warehouse?

3rd party logistics operator’s scope:

  • pick & pack
  • storage
  • custom
  • delivery
  • returns
  • insurance
  • Added Value Services (VAS): relationship with customer service, shipping tracking

Cross-border tax

The applicable cross-border tax depends on how the goods are shipped. There are 2 types of tax, corresponding to the 2 logistics options.

  • Personal import tax
  • Cross-border import tax

In China, the preferential tax regulations are made to lower the price of the goods in order to spur cross-border commerce.

Cross-border consolidated tax

(GST + VAT) x 70% (No tariff) of the order value

Depending on the logistics option, applicable tax is different:

Personal importCross-border import
Custom clearancevia direct postal clearancevia bonded clearance
applicable taxIf the parcel get checked
=> 15-60% postal tax
born by the customer or logistics operator (preferred option)

If the parcel DOES NOT get checked, you are lucky
=> No tax 🎉 🎉

GST: from 13% (depends on the product category)
VAT: 3%
=> 11.2% consolidated tax (25.5% for cosmetics)
Notetax free if under 120 USD

Chinese regulations

Regarded as personal articles with no CRDA requirements

Category of products

Only products authorised to be traded via cross-border can use in the cross-broder ecosystem in China (WeChat & marketplace platforms).

Before considering to open a cross-border shop in WeChat

Please make sure your product category on the CBEC positive list

The product categories which can be sold on a cross-border WeChat Mini Program is more limited compared to the permitted product categories which can be traded into China via cross-border.

List of permitted product categories which can be sold on a cross-border WeChat Mini Program

  • Clothing / Shoes / Bags
  • Cosmetics / Toiletries
  • Jewelry / Accessories / Glasses / Clocks and watches

WeChat has a stricter set of rules in terms of product category available for cross-border.

Full list of permitted product categories which can be traded into China via cross-border
  • Clothing / Shoes / Bags
  • Cosmetics / Toiletries
  • Jewelry / Accessories / Glasses / Clocks and watches
  • Toys
  • Home appliances / Digital products / Mobile phones
  • Sports / Outdoor gears / Musical instruments
  • Flowers / Gardening / Crafts
  • Home furniture / Home decoration / Home textile
  • Office / Stationery
  • Automobile
  • Sport training & online fitness
  • Advertising / Design
  • Public relations / Promotion
  • General financial services
  • Online tools (calendar, dictionary, etc.)
  • Travel guide
  • Visa services
  • Restaurants comments & recommendations
  • Restaurant queuing
  • Meal ordering and delivery
  • Education
  • Photography/Enlarging print
  • Wedding service
  • Housekeeping
  • Ticketing
  • Utility bill payment
  • Delivery services
  • Exhibition services

For WeChat, there is no F&B categories. So you can’t sell spirits (alcohol) on WeChall via cross-border even though it’s possible on Tmall Global.

Hence depending on the product category to sell through WeChat cross-border, the available solutions can be limited.

Further readings

Do you need to set up a mainland Chinese legal entity to sell through WeChat into China?

wechat cross-border commerce | legal entity decision
Source: James LaLonde 

A few keyways

  • Fapiao (local invoice) is a serious issue in China. Fapiao management is getting more and more stringent.
  • Virtually all local businesses will have a WeChat presence.

Trademark and IP requirements

You should obtain a trademark registered in China for all your products before initiating any sales; even those via cross-border.

Trademark registration is a crucial aspect of opening a cross-border shop in WeChat.

2. How to sell on WeChat from outside of China

outside of China means no / limited presence in China.

We break down the different scenarios to start selling cross-border through a branded WeChat shop.

Our scenarios are based on:

  • leveraging an existing and flexible WeChat store solution to support cross-border activity
  • avoiding additional costs to develop a custom-made WeChat store from scratch

Here are the advantages ✅ and disadvantages ❌ of building a WeChat-based solution:

✅ Branded and localized sales channel
✅ Independant for the operation and promotion activities
✅ Full control over pricing, cost, margin and customer data
✅ IT infrastructure already set up

❌ Lack of organic search traffic => complementary marketing activities are a must.
❌ Within WeChat => the experience (log in or checkout) is not optimized outside of WeChat.

In our scenarios, the cross-border store is leveraging WeChat power, in order to build a direct relationship with their customers.

If other sales channels are considered like the marketplace platforms (Tmall Global / JD international):

  • it requires extra investment which is quit high.
  • the control and the flexibility with these 3rd parties channels are different.
  • a cross-platform strategy should be put in place.

Also as these scenarios are using WeChat ecosystem, the cross-border payment option is WeChat cross-border payment (the ability to pay from within WeChat, with one click). This payment method doesn’t require you to have a Chinese bank account.

Eventually there is no scenario better than the other. It depends on the merchant parameters:

  • objective
  • budget
  • China presence
  • market priority / commitment to China market
  • buyer persona
  • competition
  • product category
  • number of SKUs
  • retention rate

Scenario 1: build your owned channel with a local partner (who might not be specialized in cross-border)

Option aiming at accessing the maximum of what local entity can do with limited commitment

  1. Find a trustworthy local partner
  2. Sign up for WeChat Store Provider using the 3rd party local partner information (mainly the business license) in order to build a standalone eCommerce
  3. Create a cross-border Payment account
  4. Set up and configure the WeChat Shop

The WeChat store is operated directly by the brands/retailers. They manage everything in-house to build a WeChat sales channel.

You can access the features and the benefits of a WeChat Store as if you were locally registered. You can also apply for a WeChat Official Account to link it to your WeChat store.

If the local partner is not specialized in China cross-border commerce, the process could be less smooth (regulations, logistics, customs, tax, etc…)

✅ Full control over the shop design an the operations
✅ Avoid the WeChat Pay limitations
✅ Optimize WeChat cross-border payment charges
✅ Ability to scale
✅ Fast

❌ Admin process
❌ Depend on the 3rd party local business partner (WeChat Shop ownership of a third party)
❌ Effective ownership by the 3rd party company

Scenario 2: leverage a 3rd party cross-border solution to hit the market fast (with the support of a local WeChat Trader Partner)

Option aiming at unlocking Chinese eCommerce opportunity with a minimum commitment

There are local companies specialized in China cross-border commerce on WeChat called WeChat Trader Partners. They help you to build your presence on WeChat and generate sales on it with turnkey solutions which can be marketed in 2 models:

  1. a package to build a standalone WeChat shop – flagship store
  2. a marketplace program to have a shop in a WeChat-powered multi-brand platform

Process until you hit the market:

  1. Find a WeChat Trader Partner specialized in China cross-border commerce through WeChat
  2. They set up and configure the WeChat Shop.

Setup and configuration include:

  • Shop creation, set-up and design
  • WeChat Pay integration (cross-border payment provider:)
  • Warehousing connection
  • Foreign payment gateway
  • Customer service and returns workflow
  • Payements and settlements (workaround of setting up a WeChat cross-border payment account)

They operate the Chinese online shop (from set-up to management) on your behalf via a delegation contract.

Beyond providing the ready-to-sell platform, they are able to assist you further (with potential additional costs) with some important topics related to cross-border commerce
  • Support to source of 3rd party services (logistics, warehousing)
  • Product category compliance
  • Logistics and warehousing: manage logistics and support logistic needs (cross-border logistics, warehouse services, courier services)
  • Customs
  • Online shop experience
  • Platform maintenance
  • Shop management: update store design / input product information – product management
  • Customer service
  • Returns management
  • Loyalty program
  • Reporting: regular operations report and analysis
  • Content creation and design

The cost varies depending on the platform they are using:

  • they have their own proprietary platform.
  • they leverage an existing WeChat store solution.

The scenario helps to enjoy the power of domestic eCommerce platforms without the hassle of the admin processes, the platform maintenance and a China presence.

✅ Quicker
✅ Lower cost
✅ Meet the objective to test whether there is the product-market-fit or not
✅ Avoid the WeChat Pay limitations
✅ Optimize WeChat cross-border payment charges

❌ Expansion limitation

In parallel

You can apply for a WeChat Official Account as an Overseas entity to link it to your domestic WeChat store.

Scenario 3: Overseas WeChat Shop

Option aiming at getting started and testing the market

  1. Register a WeChat Official Account or Mini Program based in the origin country under your foreign entity name
  2. Create a cross-border Payment account
  3. Create, configure and design the WeChat Shop

An overseas entity can apply for cross-border eCommerce Mini Program / WeChat Official Account. All of the following documents need to be supplied at the same time:

  1. E-commerce platform qualification documents issued locally (notarized by a notary institution and certified by the local Chinese embassy)
  2. Entrustment agreement with domestic enterprises (the content of the clause must include liability authorization guarantee and promise to bear legal responsibility)
  3. Consumer protection mechanism or scheme (such as consumer risk notification letter)

However, there are limitations to check before registering for Overseas Mini APP:

So in most case, custom development is required to implement a 3rd party payment gateways to enable the cross-border payment.

✅ Full control

❌ WeChat Pay limitation
❌ Longer lead-time

Scenario 4: build your owned independent channel with your own Chinese entity

Option aiming at medium to long term plan for China market

  1. Set up a company in China – Incorporate WOFE
  2. Apply for a WeChat Official Account
  3. Apply for WeChat Pay
  4. Sign up for WeChat Store Provider to build a standalone eCommerce

The WeChat store is operated directly by the brand/retailer.

✅ Be able to issue local fapiao
✅ China-based operation
✅ Avoid the WeChat Pay limitations
✅ Ability to scale

❌ Long-process (6 to 12 months)
❌ Costly and time consuming ($20k+ and monthly operating expenses)
❌ High commitment (increase risk) with local operator to build and maintain the platform

3. Other considerations when setting up a cross-border shop for China

Technologies

In the previous section, we cover the different solutions that are integrated in the WeChat ecosystem. A standalone store or a third-party marketplace can be powered by different WeChat-based technologies:

The other sales channels for cross-border eCommerce that are NOT integrated in the WeChat ecosystem are using:

  • Native APP
  • Web-based eCommerce

When targeting Chinese consumers, in order to match Chinese’s behaviour, it’s important that the technology is:

  • mobile-first
  • with Chinese user experience
  • integrated with Chinese payment systems (WeChat / Alipay)

WeChat cross border payment service

The payment is settled via WeChat cross-border payment. The end-customer pays in RMB via WeChat and the merchant received money in overseas currency.

WeChat cross-border payment service is a payment gateway to allow customers to use the Chinese currency to pay for goods or services sold by overseas merchants (both online and offline).

In order to use this service, overseas merchant opens a WeChat cross-border payment account that is link to the name of the foreign business (no need Chinese license).

Commission

WeChat cross-border payment charges around 2% on the cross-border transaction including the conversion to the foreign currency.

How to set up your account?

Register to WeChat cross-border payment account via:

  • 3rd party cross-border payment provider (official local partners / WeChat agent / payment intermediaries)
  • WeChat Pay Service Provider / 机构服务商 (native account)

The latest option takes (a lot of) time and the provided API is as good as the ones provided by the official local partners which are payment intermediaries, representative of Tencent.

So WeChat has local partners in various geographies to help WeChat to implement WeChat payment.

Their main service is to collect money on the behalf of the merchants which is then transfer to the merchant’s bank account.

Benefits of using these payment intermediaries:

  • easier application process
  • faster to create the cross-border payment account (about 2 weeks)
  • lower cross-border payment charges (less than 2%)

Here is the exhaustive list of WeChat Pay partners per country.

Mechanism

Chinese customers pay in RMB.

WeChat Pay covers the following currencies: HKD, USD, GBP, JPY, CAD, AUD, EUR, NZD, KRW, THB, SGD, RUB, DKK, SEK, CHF and NOK. For unsupported currencies, trade can be made through the settlement of US dollars.

It settles each transaction with foreign vendors based on the price in local currency.

It purchases the foreign currency in T+1 day.

T+1 day settlement ensures a fast and safe payment transaction.

Non platform / technology expense

Beyond the cost related to the cross-border shop (set-up + operation), there are some non non platform / technology expense:

  • Marketing
  • Production
  • WeChat Trader Partner fee
  • Import duties
  • Shipping
  • Warehousing if needed

4. Cross-border platforms in China

Besides branded WeChat shop, retailers and brands outside of China have another option: marketplace platforms such as Tmall Global, Kaola, Haitun, VIP international, Xiaohongshu

wechat cross-border commerce
Market for cross-border e-commerce | December 2019 [iMedia]

Cross-border e-commerce is dominated by Alibaba and NetEase Kaola / 网易考拉.

Major platformsMinor platforms
Tmall GlobalVip.com
JD WorldwideSecoo
Netease KaolaMia
XiaohongshuSuning

The initial investment to set and use these sales channels can be quite high for overseas merchants that only aims at testing the product-market fit.

That’s why WeChat-powered platforms can be a relevant solution with a limited budget.

✅ Well-known reputation in China
✅ Large network & infrastructure
✅ Standardized rules and operating guidelines

❌ Merchant in weak position
❌ High cost
❌ Special marketplace rules

Idea for cost comparison (Platform / technology expense)

This cost estimate doesn’t include marketing/promotion budget.

The idea of budget: minimum investment of $30K+ per year (deposit + usage subscription + sales commissions + payment fees) for ‘Tmall Global’ marketplace (without marketing/promotion).

3rd party cross-border B2C e-commerce platforms (TMALL, JD, VIP)WeChat based cross-border platform
Upfront DepositBased on the product category

TMALL GLOBAL
150,000 – 300,000 RMB

JD WORLDWIDE
15,000 USD

KAOLA
15,000 USD
No deposit (except for some WeChat Trader Partner)
Annual usage and technical service feesTMALL GLOBAL
30,000 – 60,000 RMB

JD WORLDWIDE
1,000 USD

KAOLA
15,000 USD
Annual usage fee from 10,000 – 26,000 RMB
Sales commissions Based on the product category

TMALL GLOBAL
0,5-2%

JD WORLDWIDE
2-8%

KAOLA
2-10%
No sales commission
Transaction feeAlipay = 1%WeChat cross-border payment charges = about 2%
Other hidden cost to have in mind

Logistics, Tax, Returns, platform and partnership deposit

Further reading

5. Limitation of WeChat cross-border commerce

Only meet certain objectives (validate product traction in China with minimum risk)

Some product categories are not eligible for cross-border commerce.

6. Timeline and updates on WeChat cross-border commerce

DateFeatureMore details / Source
2012China is opening to cross-border commerce import.

7. WeChat marketing activities to promote WeChat cross-border commerce initiative

Beyond building a robust platform, in parallel of setting up the cross-border shop, the marketing strategy is equally important. Here are some techniques to generate traffic to your WeChat shop.

  • WeChat influencers
  • WeChat display advertising
  • Cross-promotion with other WeChat Official Accounts
  • Content marketing
  • Social sharing
  • Driving traffic from other platform and social networks
Learn about WeChat marketing

WeChat is a relevant platform to reach Chinese customers because of its prevalence. But this platform is highly competitive because marketers are striving to catch users’ attention. So the marketing strategy come even more important.

We would recommend to choose local partners to help you on this in order to benefit their local expertise and network. China is a completely specific market. We won’t say it enough 🙂


If you think of some improvements or missing information…


Let’s build up the knowledge around WeChat cross-border commerce collectively !

Updated on 2020-07-15
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