China’s e-commerce sales are estimated to reach 600 billion USD in 2018, making up 20% of global e-commerce sales and surpassing the US market sales. The China e-commerce market is estimated to further grow to 956 billion USD by 2022. Alibaba alone counted 488 million active online buyers by the end of 2017, representing a market share of 30% of digital buyers worldwide.
Market access in China, especially in the online space, is predominantly reserved for local enterprises. Foreign brands wishing to partake, often face market entry barriers. Getting listed on the large cross-border e-commerce platforms Tmall cross-border, JD cross-border, XiaoHongShu require existing online presence, i.e. search volume, in China and are generally more suited for MNC brands.
Within the e-commerce market, social commerce is becoming more important to deliver brand messaging and to create that demand. WeChat, undoubtedly, is the go-to social media platform in China and its store accounts enable brands to communicate their message and drive social e-commerce on the same platform.
So, how can a non-Chinese business register a WeChat account?
You can apply for a WeChat Store account directly with WeChat either with your Chinese company or with a foreign company. However, foreign companies will generally not have access to the Mainland market and stores will not appear in Mainland China, only in WeChat overseas accounts. A Hong Kong company is also a non-Chinese entity. Getting approval for WeChat payment, again, is a different story.
Alternatively, you can go through an agent. Going through an agent, generally utilizes their license and payment account. Thus, it is possible to open a WeChat Store account for Mainland China for a Hong Kong company that is searchable in the Mainland. Sales payment can be processed through WeChat and the agent into a Hong Kong bank account.
As part of your bigger China market penetration strategy, you should consider establishing a WFOE down the line.
Taking part in the Chinese (social) e-commerce takes a different approach than in the US or Europe, but it is no longer a complete mystery.