Look Ahead 2013

Mobile Apps, Ambitious Marketers and More: The Trends We're Watching in China

Will China Become the World's Biggest E-Commerce Market by 2015?

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Happy New Year. Now get cracking: We outline challenges for 2013 and offer up some predictions

Number 1


The darling of mobile apps in China, WeChat is on the cusp of reaching 300 million users. This app lets users trade text, voice, photo and video messages with friends, but also features social functions like "look around" to locate other users nearby. Originally launched in Chinese, WeChat now has versions in multiple languages, and parent company Tencent has said it's gaining traction in other Asian markets. Not surprisingly, marketers are trying to figure out how to converse with consumers through WeChat, with Nike and Starbucks among the early adopters. There haven't been any runaway WeChat marketing success stories. Perhaps the best indication of WeChat's popularity: It is cutting into usage of Sina Weibo, the microblog platform that was on everyone's hot list a year ago. Business meetings in China now frequently conclude with everyone swapping WeChat IDs.

Ambitious Chinese marketers

Cash-flush Chinese marketers are looking overseas for growth and branding opportunities. It's not a new story but one that will continue to be an area to watch in 2013, particularly as China's economy and sales are expected to slow. Look for cameos by multiple Chinese brands in installments of the "Ironman" and "Transformers" films -- which have previously featured casualwear retailer Meters/Bonwe, computer-maker Lenovo and consumer-electronics manufacturer TCL. In the coming months the spotlight will be on Huawei, the telecom giant that recently signed WPP to handle its global corporate branding. Accused of being too cozy with the Chinese military, Huawei wants to remold its image as it steps up its global profile in the smartphone category. If Huawei can find a way to win in international consumer markets, other Chinese brands are sure to follow -- and like Huawei, they will ask marketing agencies to help lead the way.


China is on track to overtake the U.S. and become the world's largest e-commerce market by 2015. The vast majority of sales still come from consumer transactions, but B-to-C is driving the growth in China, where shoppers go online to buy everything from cars to butter. Earlier this year, China's version of Cyber Monday brought in $3 billion for merchants on the two major e-commerce platforms Taobao and Tmall -- the biggest online shopping day anywhere. Companies getting in on the action include Walmart, which took a controlling stake in local online retailer Yihaodian in late 2012. According to a Boston Consulting Group report: "The internet today in China is similar to television in the 1960s and '70s in the West -- the place where consumers congregate and companies need to locate."

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