A Brand’s Guide to Selling on Xiaohongshu in China

In 2019, China amassed an astounding $1.93 trillion in e-commerce sales — making it the largest digital market in the world, with an international market share of almost 55%. 

But what’s behind this phenomenal growth?

why advertise on xiaohongshu

Alongside a rapid increase in mobile phone usage, social media has significantly changed the way Chinese consumers shop online. Particularly among those born in the mid to late nineties, who are leading the way in changing trends.  

And that’s where XiaoHongshu comes into play: a popular ‘lifestyle’ app that’s taken the e-commerce industry by storm. 

In this guide, we’ll explain exactly what XiaoHongshu is, how businesses sell on it, and how you can use XiaoHongshu to boost your brand’s presence in the world’s most important e-commerce market.

What is Xiaohongshu (and what makes it so powerful for international brands)?

XiaoHongshu (or ‘Little Red Book’) is an innovative, ‘social commerce’ platform in China. Think of it as Amazon meets Instagram, where predominantly young, female consumers discover and purchase ‘luxury goods’ (like make-up) on the basis of product reviews and influencer opinions. 

You could say it’s similar to Instagram’s shopping feature, which has also proved the concept of fusing e-commerce with user-generated content — only XiaoHongshu is far more elevated, and takes that idea to a whole new level. 

As you might imagine, this immersive take on e-commerce has proved hugely popular. The platform has tripled in size since mid-2018, and now boasts around 300 million registered users.  In 2018, it raised a US$300 million funding led by Alibaba group and Tencent holdings. At that time, the company was valued at US$3 billion.

Such rapid growth offers a unique opportunity for international brands to capitalize on Chinese consumer trends, where reviews and recommendations form a large part of a customer’s journey to the checkout.

Xiaohongshu started as an online tour guide for Chinese shoppers in 2013. On the platform, users reviewed products and shared their shopping experiences with the community. Later, in 2014, the founders started focusing on connecting Chinese consumers with global retailers. They set up the platform for cross-border e-commerce, allowing Chinese consumers to directly purchase products from overseas.

Today,  Xiaohongshu also has an operating platform RED Mall, which sells international products to Chinese users.

So how do you get your slice of the pie?

How to sell on Xiaohongshu — a step-by-step guide

Navigating XiaoHongshu’s merchant setup can be tricky. There’s a lot to think about, and not a lot of support out there. Here’s what you need to know about how to sell on XiaoHongshu… without the learning curve!

1. Register on Xiaohongshu 

First, you’ll need to register an account on XiaoHongshu’s enterprise system. This should be relatively straightforward if you are an incorporated company with its own email address.

2. Provide your company details 

After creating an account, you next need to provide the following details:

  • Company information: including contact details, where you are based, the origin of your goods, trade model (cross border or general trade) and business category.
  • Company qualification: proof of incorporation, along with a Chinese business license or letter confirming your right to sell in China. 
  • Financial information: such as bank details (don’t worry, you don’t need a Chinese bank), billing currency, account number and sort code. 
  • Brand information: including brand name, brand description, brand images, and whether you are a single brand (one company) or a multi brand (a parent company to other subsidiaries).
  • Brand qualification: trademark certificates, authorization to resell other brands (if necessary), as well as confirmation to sell as own brand.

There’s a lot to cover here, so consider using a tool like AdChina.io that takes care of the registration process for you. That way, you don’t miss anything out and risk delaying approval. 

3. Qualification review

Once you’ve submitted the above information, XiaoHongshu will process your application and make a decision as to whether you can sell on their platform. This can be processed as soon as one week after your submission if all the information you provided is correct. 

4. Sign the contract 

If your XiaoHongshu application is approved, you’ll receive a digital contract to sign via email, as well as a physical contract to return in the post. Read through these with a legal consultant, and sign them (if you want to proceed) as soon as you can. 

5. Complete your Xiaohongshu training

The final step of XiaoHongshu’s application process is to complete their online training program. 

This covers everything you need to know about selling on the platform, and you can’t open your store until you’ve completed it. Put some time aside to really focus on this — it’ll help you enormously, further down the line. 

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How international brands can advertise on Xiaohongshu

XiaoHongshu offers a number of organic and paid opportunities to promote your brand to its user base. These include:

1. Opening a brand account

Brand accounts are one of the best ways of engaging with the community on XiaoHongshu. They can share ‘notes’ with their followers, upload images and video content, sell their own products, and respond directly to fan reviews and comments. 

With the right strategy and content in place, a brand account on XiaoHongshu could quickly generate interest on the platform, particularly if your notes are added to the ‘boards’ of popular influencers, which we’ll touch on next. 

Growing your follower base will also give your brand the ‘social proof’ it needs to win over Chinese consumers. Beauty brands like Lancome, Innisfree and Swisse have used this to become some of the most popular beauty accounts on the platform:

The make-up brands redefining success on XiaoHongshu.
The make-up brands redefining success on XiaoHongshu. 

2. Reaching out to influencers, or ‘Key Opinion Leaders’ 

Influencers and KOLs are absolutely key to gaining traction on XiaoHongshu, and are arguably the most powerful form of advertising the platform has to offer. 

Chinese make-up brand, Perfect Diary, was able to dominate the Asian beauty scene in a little under three years. They worked closely with both celebrity and consumer KOLs in a ‘pyramid strategy’ that guaranteed widespread coverage to achieve this:

Perfect Diary’s KOL strategy for XiaoHongshu.
 Perfect Diary’s KOL strategy for XiaoHongshu. 

International brands, like MAC Cosmetics and Gucci, have also collaborated with influencers on XiaoHongshu. Austin Li, a beauty vlogger who entertains his followers with luxury lipstick reviews, is definitely one to watch. 

XiaoHongshu ‘Influencer Platform’ — a database hosting around 6,000 influencers is designed to connect you to those most relevant to your niche and budget. 

XiaoHongshu’s influencer platform.
XiaoHongshu’s influencer platform. 

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3. Investing in Xiaohongshu advertising 

Alongside organic opportunities and influencer marketing, XiaoHongshu also offers traditional advertising in the form of ‘pop-up’ ads — appearing when the app is opened — and promotional messages natively integrated within the platform’s ‘explore’ feed. 

Some examples include MAC Cosmetics’ multi-page campaign for its new SPF fluid, and Lancôme’s pop-up ad for its ‘youth-activating’ serum:

MAC Cosmetics SPF advert
MAC Cosmetics SPF advert on XiaoHongshu


Lancôme’s pop-up advert
Lancôme’s pop-up advert on XiaoHongshu

How does Xiaohongshu compare to other Chinese platforms?

If you’re looking into the available advertising options in China, you might be wondering where Xiaohongshu fits into the market.

After all, with the huge popularity of other social media platforms like WeChat, QQ, and Weibo — what makes Xiaohongshu any different? And what benefit does it offer international brands? 

Well, first and foremost, Xiaohongshu is China’s only social e-commerce platform that exists specifically for users to discover, review, and buy new products. 

It’s also the No.1 ranked cross-border shopping app in China, which makes it the ideal platform for international brands looking to reach Chinese consumers. 

And whilst platforms like WeChat do offer in-built e-commerce capabilities, no other platform in China is so focused on fusing shopping with online communities and user-generated reviews. 

This offers a huge opportunity for brands wanting to attract Chinese consumers, who — more than any other demographic in the world — value ‘word of mouth marketing’ and customer reviews when buying new products.  

What’s more, in comparison to other social media platforms in China, Xiahongshu also has a very unique user-base: 85% are female and almost 60% are under the age of 24. This separates it from platforms like WeChat which have less targeted appeal

However, the platform has started focussing on attracting more male users since 2021 to maintain its growth.

As such today, Xiaohongshu is one of the best in China for selling female fashion products and cosmetics — particularly when teaming up with KOLs or KOCs, which we’ll be touching on a little later.

So, all in all, Xiahongshu stands out in the Chinese market as a unique social commerce platform that’s ideal for targeting young, female consumers in China. 

Xiaohongshu set up: How long does it take to become a merchant?

This will depend on how quickly you can complete the steps we’ve covered above, including:

  • Registering for an account
  • Providing the necessary documentation
  • Completing your Xiaohongshu training

If you’re efficient, you could become a registered merchant within one week, providing you keep in touch with Xiaohongshu throughout the process. You can email them on ft_sellerservice@xiaohongshu.com if you ever have any problems. 

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How much does it cost to sell on Xiaohongshu?

There is no fixed fee for selling on Xiaohongshu, as this will vary depending on the industry of your company, as well as its size and store type. 

Generally, though, you should expect to pay an initial deposit in the region of 20,000 RMB (or just over $3,000), which will be transferred back to your registered bank account within three months of closing your store. 

And in terms of commissions per transaction, you’ll be looking at somewhere between 15-20% depending on your industry and scale. 

What makes a successful Xiaohongshu strategy

So, now you know the ins and outs of becoming a seller on Xiaohongshu — how do you achieve success on the platform? Here are three top tips to keep in mind:

1. Encourage reviews and user-generated-content 

90% of Chinese consumers buy products based on their reputation.

That’s why Xiaohongshu is so successful — because it directly connects shoppers to customer reviews at the point of purchase. 

To make the most of this unique set-up, it’s important to actively encourage users to leave reviews on your products. You could do this by using an official account to engage with active users and request their feedback. 

You could even launch a free product giveaway for those who have left a review on your profile, for example. This would be a great way of not only promoting your products, but also growing your organic reach on the platform. 

2. Build an effective KOL and KOC strategy 

When selling on Xiaohongshu, the most effective marketing strategy is to work with Key Opinion Leaders (like social media influencers) and Key Opinion Consumers (common users with fewer followers) to create original content on the platform. 

These are trusted by users and will give your brand the ‘social proof’ it needs to perform well on Xiaohongshu, where user-generated content is king. 

Revisit Perfect Diary’s KOL and KOC strategy to learn more about how to strike the right balance between the two. 

3. Target young, female consumers

Remember, Xiaohongshu is dominated by young, female consumers, and so success on the platform will be determined by how well you can target this demographic. 

To do that, it’s important to build a brand image that’s attractive to young women in terms of:

  • The original content you create
  • The KOLs and KOCs you collaborate with
  • The products you promote and sell on your account

The highest performing products on Xiaohongshu include female fashion items, makeup, and skincare — so, putting these at the core of your content marketing strategy for the platform is a must. 

Marketing on Xiaohongshu — the bottomline…

If you’re looking to reach young, female consumers in China, XiaoHongshu should form a key part of your strategy. 

But marketing in China is never easy — there are language barriers to overcome, regulations to navigate and high costs that can make getting started all too risky… and that’s just scratching the surface. 

That’s why at AdChina, we’re committed to helping businesses like yours achieve marketing success in China, without all the risks. Create a free account to learn how we can help grow your brand in the biggest e-commerce market in the world.

Want to start selling on Xiaohongshu?

AdChina.io is one of the easiest ways to start selling in China. Work with us to run a KOL campaign on XiaoHongshu, or use our self-service platform to run campaigns and drive sales. Create a FREE account to get started.

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