Amazon takes Black Friday to China

Updated: 2014-11-27 06:07

By NIU YUE in New York(China Daily USA)

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As American shoppers stay up all Thanksgiving night to take advantage of Macy's night-owl hours for Black Friday, Chinese shoppers will be buying US products at steep discounts from the comfort of their own homes, thanks to a campaign being launched by Amazon.

Amazon China will unveil its Chinese version of Black Friday on Nov 28 at 9 am Beijing time (8 pm, Nov 27 EST). The two-day campaign will offer more than 35,000 different products at discounts of up to 70 percent.

The move is to satisfy China's growing appetite for products from overseas. "We hope that Chinese customers have access to quality international products through Z.cn wherever they are," said Doug Gurr, president of Amazon China, in a statement. Z.cn is the domain for Amazon China.

Buying imported goods online in China has skyrocketed from $700 million in 2008 to $13.1 billion in 2013, according to Beijing-based Internet consultancy Enfodesk, which estimates the figure will grow by another 60 percent in 2014 to $21 billion.

"As Chinese consumers grow in affluence and sophistication, it should be no surprise that their preferences are similar to other consumers around the world," said Joe Nora, senior analyst with Export Now, a company that helps Western businesses sell products in China via e-commerce. "This gives an opening to specialty and premium products from overseas to meet their needs."

Western businesses benefiting from this trend "tend to be electronics like Apple and luxury goods like Gucci", said Kirsta Garcia, an analyst with digital marketing firm eMarketer.

Electronics are often more expensive in China than in the US. A 16G contract-free iPhone 6, for example, is $706 including taxes in New York, but around $860 in China, Garcia said. Luxury brands also cost more, and many products are not sold in China.

The process of shopping overseas for Chinese used to be dominated by agents who would buy the products abroad and resell them to customers in China. "Their business will be hugely affected as long as Amazon sells what they sell," said Lucas Lu, a New York University student who occasionally works as such an agent. "They cannot compete with Amazon on electronic gadgets and ordinary clothes at all."

Man Da, a 28-year-old resident of central China's Wuhan city, told China Daily that he prefers Amazon to agents. "I won't even look at those agents," he said. "They don't have the credibility Amazon has, and they charge higher prices."

Amazon China says many of its products are procured directly from suppliers without any middlemen. It also guarantees it will complete international orders in two weeks, on average, and in some cases three working days, thanks to its 96 operation centers worldwide. Customs can be cleared "in seconds", according to a press release, and after-sale services in Chinese are also available.

Man said he remains concerned about logistics. All products still have to go through Chinese customs, a factor "you cannot control".

"It's naturally easier for Chinese to get through Chinese customs, while many big [foreign] companies may get stuck there," said Zhao Xin, CEO of Tiantian8.com, a website that helps transport foreign goods into China.

Zhao said other players can still find niches in China that Amazon cannot fully cover and predicted Amazon's Black Friday in China won't be a doomsday for others. "Amazon is big, but being small has its own advantages," she said.

Even compared with "big" domestic players, Amazon is "nowhere near their Chinese counterparts", said Nora.

Amazon China accounted for 2 percent of China's B2C online retail in the second quarter of 2014, according to Beijing-based Internet research institute Sootoo. Alibaba had 57 percent and JD.com had 21 percent.

"I'm not sure that Amazon does have an advantage over domestic retailers," said Garcia. "US brands are using Chinese platforms [like Alibaba] to reach local shoppers."

Alibaba has teamed with Macy's, American Apparel and Gilt Groupe for Black Friday this year, while other smaller niche online retailers also have their own international shipping services.

Lu Huiquan in New York contributed to the story.

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