eBay is well-known in China as a platform for exporters seeking to sell Chinese-manufactured goods abroad, but it’s easy to overlook the fact that it has another “hidden” role as an importer.
On one hand, eBay’s main website is still an important shopping platform for Chinese seeking to buy goods from abroad. On the other, it also attempts to import goods into China through other channels; for instance, in 2015 it launched a “Featured on eBay Abroad” channel on JD Global, and a third-party service provider maintained a WeChat shop called “Featured on eBay” until it was closed in 2015.
It also operates a low-profile China platform for its main e-commerce site under the domain name “haitao.ebay.com”, catering to shoppers looking to access goods from abroad.
In recent days, though, it seems that eBay intends to bulk up its importing business in China; next year, it plans to begin looking for merchants. Devin Wenig also announced progress on eBay’s China platform on November 20th, saying that eBay had introduced local payment methods to the site.
Wenig’s announcement seems to point to a redesigned website rather than announcing a new strategy, though the latter may come as well. If you open the new eBay platform, you’ll find a redesigned layout, a mobile site, and other user-friendly aids such as one-click translation and acceptance of UnionPay. What’s still missing, though, is a mobile app.
The products on this site are still connected directly with eBay’s various national platforms, mainly from American-based sellers, including Chinese and HK residents who set up stores in the US with eBay, and relies on overseas direct mail to ship goods, unlike eBay’s American platform, where Chinese buyers can transship.
eBay isn’t a stranger to China’s import market, having launched an overseas purchase platform in 2010 to help Chinese consumers buy abroad, but after giving up on the initiative in 2012 it is rarely remembered. To say it was too forward-looking is not an excuse, but the fact remains that at the time cross-border e-commerce in China was in its infancy, at least when it came to imports.
According to statistics from China’s Ministry of Commerce, cross-border e-commerce transactions (import and export) totaled 3.1 trillion yuan (US$469.7 billion) in 2013; in 2016, that number had risen to 6.5 trillion yuan (US$984.8 billion). In Q2 2017, cross-border e-commerce imports totaled 93.82 billion yuan (US$14.21), a 17.6% rise over the previous month.
Giants such as Alibaba, JD.com, Netease Kaola, and Amazon have all entered the market one after another, followed in the 2014-15 period by many start-ups… at which point eBay was still focusing on exporters. It seems to have been involved in the import market, but not enough; the competition of the past few years has left it a late entrant, with little time to make up ground and pass its competitors. It isn’t clear how it can arrange its business in China to overtake them.