The E-Commerce Ecosystem in China: A Checklist for European SMEs (2021 Update)

China recorded total consumer goods retail sales of RMB 39.2 trillion (€4.98 trillion) in 2020. 1 Despite this figure falling by 3.9% in comparison with a year earlier due to COVID-19, most of this decline occurred towards the start of 2020 rather than the end.2 In the first quarter of 2021, retail sales of consumer goods increased by 33.9% over the previous year’s first quarter,3 in line with the Chinese economy’s speedy recovering from the pandemic. Furthermore, when looking at the online sales data for physical products in 2020, it can be seen that they were not affected by COVID-19, with growth over the year of 14.8% and total sales of RMB 9.76 trillion (€1.24 trillion).

This report provides a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of China’s e-commerce ecosystem. The first section introduces the key actors involved both in traditional e-commerce and in CBEC, the latest consumer trends and emerging product categories. The second section analyses the most recent developments in terms of e-commerce policies, regulations and market entry provisions. The report then moves into its core section: a practical checklist for European brands looking to take advantage of the e-commerce opportunity in China. Specifically, it provides an overview of the key steps, costs, market entry channels, pricing and marketing strategies, logistics requirements, and best practices to follow and avoid. Finally, the report provides a comparison among various Chinese e-commerce platforms, including less known ones such as Pinduoduo, Little Red Book and Kaola, a list of key consumer festivals and holidays to follow in China, and a case study on a livestreaming campaign organised by a business support organisation with Chinese Key Opinion Leaders.

Table of Contents:

Market overview

1.1. Key roles in China’s e-commerce ecosystem

1.2. The latest e-commerce developments and consumer trends

1.3. Key emerging product categories of relevance to European brands

Business environment and policy updates

2.1. China’s E-commerce Law

2.2. Antimonopoly regulations for e-commerce platforms

2.3. Widening of China’s Cross-Border E-Commerce Positive List

2.4. Updated tax rates for cross-border e-commerce

2.5. Latest regulatory developments

A checklist for e-commerce in China

3.1. Market demands and China readiness assessment

3.2. Key steps and hard costs for entering the Chinese market through e-commerce

3.3. Leading e-commerce platforms and costs

3.4. Pricing strategies available

3.5. Logistics

3.6. Digital marketing campaigns and livestreaming

3.7. Best practices and practices to avoid

Major e-commerce marketing campaign event calendar and case studies

4.1. A list of major dates and events for e-commerce marketing campaigns in China

4.2. Key data and information regarding e-commerce marketing campaigns

4.3. Case study of a successful e-commerce marketing campaign: UK Super Brand Day


NOTE: This EU SME Centre report is an update of a previous report produced in 2017 – “E-commerce in China”, accessible at:

You can download the full updated report here: