As a rising economic superpower, the market potential of China is creating ripples around the world.
For Australian businesses, a country that is only a 12-hour flight away represents an unprecedented online commerce opportunity.
“China represents Australia’s prosperity for the next 100 years,” Australian Chamber of Commerce CEO Udo Doring said. “Essentially, every core industry or key product range we have, China has an immense demand for.”
Yet despite an acknowledgment of the potential, the nation has been slow to recognise the opportunity China offers, instead focusing on traditional markets such as New Zealand, the UK and the USA.
“There is an explosion in demand for overseas products coming out of China,” Sinorbis CEO and founder Nicolas Chu said.
Ranging from iron ore to luxury items, including tourism and education, China’s social and economic transformation over the past decade has given rise to a new age of consumerism.
Speaking as a global digital expert — with extensive experience managing online businesses from start-ups to large corporates across Europe, the US and Asia Pacific — Chu said this growing market opportunity for Australian businesses is fuelled by three key trends.
“The rise of the upper-middle class and affluent,” he explained. “The growth of digital commerce and the lifestyle and spending patterns of the new generation.
“These mega-trends are not only driving spending but are having a huge impact on the types of product and services that consumers are seeking and the technologies and platforms they use to access them.
“Understanding these drivers is essential for businesses wanting to tap into the Chinese digital economy.”
Challenges of China
From first-hand experience however, Chu acknowledged that for any business — irrespective of industry — it remains “incredibly difficult” to tap into this demand, due to the size and complexity of the market.
“It’s hard to relearn how to do things yet the business culture is different, the language is different and if it wasn’t already complicated enough, the whole online ecosystem is different,” he explained.
“You don’t have Google or Facebook and there’s a great firewall to deal with. For years, the internet has been highly regulated in China, filtering out access to popular websites and content.
“So even if you have a website that is translated in Chinese, it doesn’t mean that it’s visible in China because it might not be optimised correctly.”
Such a confined and regulated environment has favoured the emergence of a different ecosystem entirely, with traditional digital channels unavailable.
To succeed in the Chinese online market, Chu said it is critical to understand the differences between Western and Chinese online landscapes.
“Demographics, cultural differences and different buying patterns all play a part in e-commerce, as do the varying search engines and platforms used to access online sites,” Chu explained.
The ‘Great Firewall of China’ refers to the legislation and projects initiated by the Chinese government to regulate the internet in China.
As the main instrument of internet censorship, it is used to block websites — and social media platforms — such as Google and Facebook, giving rise to a unique Chinese digital landscape.
For Chu, a common misconception is the assumption that a Western solution can be applied to a scenario in China.
“There are no tools to help Westerners go after this market,” he said. “And this is completely crazy because China is the largest digital market in the world — more than 2.5X times the ecommerce space of the US.
“If you look back 15 years ago, when a business wanted to expand it didn’t make sense not to think of the US, now it doesn’t make sense not to think of China.”
But as a digital marketer seeking new opportunities in China, simply reusing tools and tactics from other markets across the world will seldom yield positive results.
“China has over 730 million internet users and when you put that into context, that represents a quarter of the world’s internet population,” Chu added. “So, if you want to expand internationally then you can only target 75 per cent of the world’s population.
“You can’t miss China because you miss a quarter of the world.”
Closing the gap through software
With the name derived from the Latin for China in sina and for world in orbis, Sinorbis has been international from day one, since starting operations in February 2016.
In short, the Sydney-based business serves one clear purpose — “we build software to close the gap between China and the rest of the world.”
In developing a cloud-based marketing platform — with 75 per cent of the company’s infrastructure on Alibaba Cloud — Sinorbis serves to help businesses realise the full potential of the Chinese market.
Spanning multi-channel digital services, performance indicators and optimisation, the start-up also offers industry-based solutions, targeting sectors such as higher education, tourism, consumer goods and professional services.
“Not everyone knows exactly what they should be doing but everyone knows they should go after China,” Chu said. “And when they consider the market, they realise we can help them enter this space.
“Our platform allows users to recreate their website in a very easy to use interface and you don’t need to know a single line of code.”
Leveraging Alibaba Cloud to provide flexible hosting environments, Chu and his team have developed a product capable of helping Western companies build a brand in China.
“We met with a very big bank in Australia recently that runs a Chinese website,” Chu added. “We ran quick loading tests and everything was flashing red which showed that the website wasn’t visible.
“We then created a page through our platform — which took no longer than three hours — and everything started flashing green. And that is the value proposition of our platform.”
Delving deeper, the software- as-a-service (SaaS) offering is also powered through artificial intelligence, with Sinorbis Wizard extracting and analysing ranking data from all the top search engines in China.
Unlike in Australia, where Google takes close to 95 per cent of the market share, in China, multiple players are present.
During the first quarter of 2017, Baidu had 67.6 per cent market share of search engine traffic volume in China, with Sogou and Shenma representing 16 per cent and nine per cent respectively.
“Even simple things such as running a YouTube video will result in your website being blocked,” Chu added. “This will increase loading time to a minute which means that it’s no longer visible as nobody waits that long.”
From a technology perspective, Sinorbis works closely with Alibaba Cloud, leveraging a platform used by over 2.3 million customers worldwide.
“Alibaba Cloud is a huge partner because we host a large chunk of our platform on Alibaba Cloud,” Chu said. “Everything that we produce is generated by customers that are hosted on Alibaba Cloud.
“While our interface sits on Amazon Web Services (AWS), we are a customer and a partner of Alibaba Cloud. Because we are building two thirds of our platform on Alibaba Cloud, we’re in a partnership.
“If you really want to be performing in China, which is our whole value proposition, Alibaba Cloud is the only way to go.”