Selling products through cross-border eCommerce in China

The cross-border eCommerce market in China shows great promise as there is an enormous demand for foreign products in China, and such demand is continuously rising at an impressive rate. The Ministry of Commerce reports that the total imports in China hit $1.84 trillion in 2018, having increased by 15.9% from the previous year. Commenting on the increasing consumer demand for international goods, Alibaba Group, a major Chinese technology giant, announced its five-year plan to bring in 200$ billion worth of imported goods. It is unsurprising that such mode of business has captured the attention of the Chinese government, which continues to announce measures to encourage and facilitate cross-border business transactions by offering tax incentives and developing cross border e-commerce pilot zones all over the country. Cross border eCommerce not only presents many opportunities for foreign investors, but also allows them to develop an in-depth understanding of the Chinese market without going through the additional procedures and risks associated with establishing a physical presence in China.

This guide will walk you through the following:

  • The cross-border eCommerce market in China
  • Which products are popular?
  • Delivering to China
  • How to get paid?
  • Website or eCommerce Platform?
  • Which eCommerce Platforms to choose from?

The cross-border eCommerce market in China

Being the world-leader in cross-border eCommerce sales, China offers a huge market in which foreign investors can sell their international products. Chinese consumers associate foreign goods with prestige along with higher safety, quality and design, and this has led to foreign possessions becoming an important part of the Chinese urban lifestyle. Moreover, investors are able to make use of the existing market on a wide variety of eCommerce platforms which target different types of consumers. Such platforms range from JD Worldwide which is frequented by tech-enthusiasts to Little Red Book which predominantly consists of young and affluent females. Products can be sold with ease at preferential duty rates, and without a Chinese subsidiary. In addition, engaging in cross-border eCommerce is becoming increasingly beneficial and easier for businesses, thanks to the governmental efforts to drive growth of the import market and increase internal consumption.

Which products are popular?

Although a large range of products can be sold through cross-border mode of business, it is important to ensure that your products can be legally exported into China and fall within the positive list. The list covers a wide variety of categories including furniture, fashion accessories, and kitchenware.

Note that the list is not fixed and has seen expansion in the past. The list now totals 1413 commodities codes, with the latest additions being home electrical appliances, seafood, and alcoholic drinks.

While the list presents a great variety of choices for products to be sold in China, there are certain international products that are extremely popular amongst Chinese consumers. The millennial generation living in tier-1 cities tend to drive the trend in the demand for international products, as they are the ones who are open to new experiences and regularly seek to experiment with new and different products.

Cosmetics, fashion, jewelry and baby products are observed to be considerably popular in cross border eCommerce. Moreover, Deloitte Global Consultancy report published in 2018 highlights a rapid growth in demand for foreign consumer electronics and pet supplies on the largest Chinese eCommerce platform, Tmall Global.

Taxes should also be considered when deciding the type of products to sell through cross-border eCommerce. The Chinese government has been helpful in this respect, as the latest regulations have increased the maximum amount for tax free cross-border purchases for single transactions from 2,000 RMB to 5,000 RMB, whereas, the annual amount of cross-border transactional limit has also been increased from 20,000 RMB to 26, 000 RMB. This works out well for luxury, high-end brands who can enjoy the tax benefits if their products fall within such limits. Nevertheless, goods sold between 5,000 RMB to 26,000 RMB are not completely prohibited and can enter the cross-border eCommerce market, but will be subject to additional fees and taxation.

Delivering to China

As the country has been highly active in supporting cross-border eCommerce, the country has been proactive in building cross-border eCommerce pilot zones which aim to ease the import process. In total, there are 105 cross-border eCommerce pilot zones all over China, with 46 recently being added in an effort to lessen the impact on the economy from COVID-19. The main feature of these free-trade zones is to have bonded warehouses which promote convenience and speed in delivering the goods to Chinese consumers.

Bonded warehouses are an effective way of delivering shipment to buyers. This method allows the seller to import products in bulk to one of the cross-border eCommerce pilot zones where they will be stored under supervision, and subsequently proceed to clearing customs when an order has been made by a buyer.

The alternative is shipping directly to consumers. This involves the buyer placing an order for the product, after which relevant records and details will need to be submitted to customs, before releasing the foreign goods from overseas warehouses, passing through customs, and finally being delivered to the Chinese consumers.

It is suggested that businesses deliver through direct shipment only as a test at the start of their operations. However, it is not recommended as a long-term method due to its high costs and slow speed; two qualities which do not sit well with Chinese consumers who are accustomed to inexpensive and swift delivery.

Customs clearance

There are many lengthy and complex steps needed for customs clearance, and this is the reason why many sellers seek the services of external logistics companies to handle such a laborious process. Most eCommerce platforms in China have their own third-party logistic providers which can be used by their registered sellers, or companies? own logistics providers may be used, if desired. For more details on customs clearance, please refer to our article on How to Export Food and Beverages Products to China.

How to get paid?

One of the main advantages of cross-border eCommerce is that consumers can pay in their local currency while the sellers can be paid in the currency of their choice. There are two main payment methods in China known as WeChat Pay and Alipay, which are owned by Tencent and Alibaba, respectively. Chinese consumers are highly unlikely to use any other lesser known payment system; therefore, it is recommended to avoid using any other payment method. Both payment services have their cross-border counterparts for international payments, however, have a few differentiating features which may help you select the best one for your business.

Both WeChat Pay and Alipay:

  • Require an overseas business license
  • Do not require a Chinese bank account
  • Enable Chinese users to pay in RMB
  • Handle currency conversion with their partner banks
  • Make payment transfer to the seller upon reaching the settlement amount

WeChat Pay:

  • Allows free account creation.
  • Charges 3% transaction fee
  • Requires minimum $5000 transaction agreement, charging additional fees for less.
  • Supports the following currencies: Euros, dollars, Japanese Yen, Pound Sterling, Australian Dollars, Singapore Dollars, Hong Kong dollars, South Korean Won


  • Charges $1000 for account creation.
  • Charges 3% transaction fee, less for transaction over 1 million yuan.
  • Requires minimum $5000 transaction agreement
  • Supports the following currencies: Euros, dollars, Japanese Yen, Pound Sterling, Australian Dollars, Singapore Dollars, Hong Kong dollars, South Korean Won, Canadian Dollars, Swiss Frances, Swedish Kroner, Danish Kroner, and Norwegian Kroner.

Website or E-Commerce site?

Selling products in Chinese eCommerce platforms takes priority over listing them on the merchant’s own website, since the Chinese are highly familiar with established eCommerce platforms hence eCommerce platforms tend to generate more online traffics than any website setup by a single band.

Which cross-border eCommerce platforms to choose from?

Tmall Global is a cross-border service for foreign enterprises who lack a physical presence in China. Consumers place a high level of trust on brands registered on T-Mall as due to the site’s insistence on product quality. This platform has high requirements for entering as a seller, with 85% of brands being rejected. However, Tmall Overseas Fulfillment programme (TOF) was released in 2019 and seeks to encourage smaller brands to test the Chinese market by allowing sales of a few products on the Tmall Global platform. To do so, brands are required to place their products in one of the TOF centers available in many countries across the world including US, Japan and South Korea. has the largest market share in cross-border eCommerce in China, and has recently been acquired by Alibaba. It hosts a large variety of products of 100% authenticity available to consumers at low-cost which is made possible through direct collaboration with brands.

VIP International is a cross-border eCommerce platform focusing on flash-sales. It collaborates with well-known brands to sell products at significantly discounted rates. It uses its own delivery partners to assure swift shipment.

JD Worldwide is the cross-border counterpart to its domestic eCommerce service, While it offers a diverse range of products, it is primarily known for consumer electronics.

Little Red Book takes a unique approach by combining social-media and eCommerce to target young urban female consumers aged between 18 – 35 years old. Founded in 2013, it revolves around the idea of using storytelling to sell products. Users are able to research products and gather tips from other users before making a purchase through the platform. This platform is ideal if your products mainly target affluent Chinese females.

WeChat Store is a built-in eCommerce platform within China’s number one “super-app”, WeChat. It allows for one-click payment through WeChat pay whilst also letting business expand their brand awareness by taking advantage of its social nature.

It is clear that cross-border eCommerce in China offers an array of profitable opportunities without requiring businesses to take substantial risks. It is, therefore, perhaps unsurprising that there is growing competition, as more and more foreign businesses are entering the market in an attempt to benefit from Chinese consumers? increasing desire for foreign products.

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