Interview: Growth Opportunities on Tmall for Selling into China

Tmall global growth opportunities for international brands

As part of’s #GrowWithChina initiative to educate founders and marketers about digital opportunities in China, we spoke to Zarina Kanji, Business Development Lead, Health & Wellness and Food & Beverage brands for Tmall Global (Alibaba Group) in the UK and the Nordics. Zarina shares her experience of helping to launch brands in China and the growth opportunities Tmall Global provides to them.

Hi Zarina! How would you describe Tmall Global to marketers in the west?

Tmall Global is a B2C e-commerce platform, which enables international brands to enter the Chinese market. It allows brands to set up online flagship stores, where they can brand, market and build loyalty amongst their target customers. 

It is an incredibly popular way for international brands to enter the market, with 80% of companies launching their presence in China on the platform.

Today, we host more 25,000 international brands, from almost 100 countries, selling more than 5,000 different categories of products, via the platform. 

Why should international brands consider selling on Tmall Global?

There are several reasons why brands should consider selling on Tmall Global. Firstly, the growth opportunities that China presents to international brands. Last year, it connected more than the total population of the UK to the internet and this trend is expected to continue. This means there is an ever-increasing pool of consumers that brands are able to reach. What’s more, engagement levels on our platform are incredibly high, with the average user spending 28 minutes on the platform each day – meaning there are lots of opportunities for brands to build their customer base.  

Secondly, the demand for international brands is incredibly strong. During the first quarter of this year, Tmall Global reported a 40% year-on-year increase in sales as consumers continue to look to international brands for their perceived high production qualities and provenance. 

Not just that, by selling on Tmall Global, brands enjoy the business’ track record of successful penetration into the Chinese market. Dedicated teams help brands to significantly expand into a market filled with potential, and market products in a way not often seen domestically. Tmall Global’s sophisticated delivery networks also help to keep things running smoothly, allowing brands to reach their customers in China from abroad using tried and tested infrastructure.

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Which would you say are the top-selling categories on Tmall Global? 

Popular categories include mother and baby, beauty, technology and health and wellness. 

Since the pandemic began, the health and wellness category has grown significantly as consumers look to improve their overall wellbeing. This has meant sales in categories such as immunity-boosting supplements and probiotics have really surged, with UK brands including Vitabiotics capitalising on this trend. 

The pandemic has also impacted what people are cooking, with almost three quarters (72.3%) of Chinese consumers saying they developed healthier eating habits during the lockdown. This is backed up by our own data which showed that sales of fresh fruit and vegetables were up 72% year on year in February alone.

Within the category, we’ve also seen a spike in popularity for alternative milk products, as Chinese consumers look to get all the benefits of drinking milk while trying to manage the fact that 90% suffer from some kind of intolerance. 

This sub-category accounts for 24.2% of the total alternative milk market however we believe that alternative milk choices, such as pea, banana and even hemp milk, will continue to grow in popularity. These already account for 64% of the market and are expected to continue to gather market share as consumers are drawn by their low calorie, highly nutritional credentials.

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Can you share a little bit about 11.11 Global Shopping Festival and what makes it a great opportunity for brands?

11.11 is the most important day in the Chinese shopping festival calendar. It started 12 years ago with just 27 brands and now welcomes more than 200,000 international brands. 

Chinese consumers plan their spending for weeks ahead of the shopping festival, putting items in their basket, which they then purchase on 11.11, to capitalise on the amazing offers available during the 24-hour period. It is a truly a Global Shopping Festival too, with consumers from across the globe buying items from Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms. 

It’s, therefore, a unique opportunity for brands to capitalise on this sense of excitement and consumers’ increased intent to spend, during a very specific timeframe – although, much like Black Friday, we’re starting to see pre and post 11.11 sales become increasingly popular.  

What is your advice for brands looking to get started with selling on Tmall Global in China?

Entering China is not something that can be done overnight. Entering the market requires a long-term strategy and there is no one size fits all. Any brand considering taking their first step into the market must invest time in tracking Chinese consumption habits, to ensure they truly understand where the opportunity for them lies. Combining this knowledge, with the right digital tools and platforms, means British brands can reap huge rewards, as China’s appetite for international brands remains insatiable. 

Thank you, Zarina, for sharing your expertise on the China market with us!

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