Support for business

China online: Australian small businesses seek success overseas

With around 800 million internet users, China presents a huge opportunity for Australian businesses selling online – and demand for our products is growing.

Koala CEO Small Business Digital

Australia is among the top 3 nations using cross-border e-commerce platform Tmall to sell products to China. Australian brands are outpacing Germany and Korea in the volume of products they are selling in the Chinese market.

But most Australian businesses are still learning how to access this market. And most issues aren’t language related. They’re to do with brand awareness and difficulties accessing Chinese consumers online.

According to digital marketing platform Sinorbis, 94% of Australian businesses can’t be accessed in China due to technical issues around internet regulation.

The Sydney-based company provides a cloud-based platform and support for businesses wanting to access this market.

“The local digital ecosystem is completely different from what we have in the west,” Nicolas Chu, Sinorbis CEO and co-founder said.

Nicolas Chu, Sinorbis CEO and co-founder.
Nicolas Chu, Sinorbis CEO and co-founder.

“If you’re serious about growing your business in China, it is important to invest in your digital foundations first."

Chu is sharing tips for local businesses looking to sell products to Chinese consumers at the free Small Business Digital 101: China online event.

Investing in digital foundations

Even if you’re using a local distributor or partner to sell your products, like Tmall or Chinese e-commerce platforms like Vip or Kaola, your website has to be accessible from mainland China.

With issues in China around counterfeit products, consumers want to know they’re buying from a reputable brand. This means Australian brands struggle without a local digital presence.

“Generating brand awareness and taking control of your messaging is a vital first step towards becoming a preferred choice for consumers,” Chu said.

“Nobody can talk about your product benefits as well as you can.

Creating a fast-loading Chinese website to inform potential customers should be the minimum investment for consumer brands working with Chinese distributors.

Taking control of social media

When it comes to social media, Chinese consumers aren’t spending their time in the same places as their Australian counterparts.

“There’s no Facebook, no Google, no Twitter. You have platforms such as WeChat, Baidu and Weibo instead,” Chu said.

Consumers also use the channels differently and they contain different content to western platforms.

“WeChat posts have more in common with blog posts than Facebook updates, so they do require some time to be produced,” he said.

“In Australia, different apps are also used for different purposes. For example, you might use PayPal to make payments, Facebook for staying in touch with friends, LinkedIn for professional networking and Menulog to order food. Chinese social media users can do all this within a single app: WeChat."

Chu said for small to medium businesses in the past, marketing to China through social media was difficult as they relied on Chinese marketing agencies to set up and manage their digital presence.

The Sinorbis cloud-based digital marketing platform breaks down some of those challenges and gives these businesses more control.

“Our platform offers website and landing page creation that is fully optimised for the Chinese digital ecosystem, with WeChat management and SEO tools," Chu said.

The ‘Brand Australia’ advantage

Certain Australian businesses have more cut through with Chinese consumers than others.

“Products in health, supplements, organic cosmetics, baby and maternity care have an innate advantage,” Chu said.

“Australia is renowned in China for its natural beauty and clean environment, and it’s become almost synonymous with good health in the minds of Chinese consumers.”

Koala Eco, an inner-Sydney small business, is having great success selling its eco-friendly cleaning products in China. Its Fruit and Vegetable Wash has been particularly popular with pollution-concerned Chinese consumers.

“Many households in China use Morning Fresh to clean their fruit and vegetables, which is a green iridescent chemical-based dish soap. We thought an all-natural fruit and veg wash would be a really popular alternative,” Koala Eco co-founder Paul Davidson said.

Davidson and his wife Jessica Brangdon founded the 100% Australian-made line of eco-friendly cleaning products in January 2017.

The company is now stocked in 350 retailers in Australia. Sales are forecast to increase by more than 500% in 2018 and they estimate 50% of these will be from China.

Koala Eco founders Paul Davidson and Jessica Brangdon.
Koala Eco founders Paul Davidson and Jessica Brangdon.

The company has just signed an agreement to send 50 containers of its products over 3 years to an exclusive Chinese distributor.

The couple made the decision to tackle the Chinese market within 9 months of starting the business.

“The Chinese consumer wants to know they are buying something that is popular in Australia. So we knew it was important to build our domestic sales and footprint first,” Davidson said.

Their first steps into the Chinese market were through a NSW Chamber of Commerce program, which led to 5 of their products being listed on the e-commerce platform Kaola.

“We quickly found out it wasn’t really enough to be just listed on their website. You really need to build that brand awareness in China,” Davidson said.

They explored China-based marketing solutions including engaging key opinion leaders to post on social platforms about their product, but at up to $100,000 a post, the cost was prohibitive.

Sinorbis recently helped Koala Eco build a Chinese website and WeChat account to support its Chinese distributor’s efforts. It will control the website and WeChat account from Australia working with a new exclusive distributor to maintain brand consistency.

Businesses should see the Chinese market not as a quick way to make a buck, but as a long-term investment that will deliver sustained growth if managed well.

“With a good strategy, solid processes and some patience, I’ve seen some very small businesses do very well in China," Chu said.

Paul Davidson of Koala Eco and Nicolas Chu of Sinorbis will speak at Small Business Digital 101: China online on 26 September 2018.

Published 21 September 2018, updated 29 February 2024