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A Western Perspective on China

Andrew is the founder of eCommerceFuel and has been building eCommerce businesses ever since gleefully leaving the corporate world in 2008.  Join him and 1,000 vetted 6 and 7-figure store owners inside the eCommerceFuel Community.

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37 comments
  • Hi. Great, informative, interesting post. Well done.

    I wanted to share it with my daughter who has fashion ecommerce businesses – via email, but there’s no provision to do that !… only by Facebook or Twitter – and that’s not as personal/direct as I’d like.

    It might be worth considering adding that provision. But again – good on you, great post. Cheers, PM.

    • I’ve emailed her a link obviously – because she’s interested in getting new clothing created in China. I just didn’t know if there’s a ‘Share by email’ that was worthy, and would help your ‘Google juice’. Cheers, PM.

    • Thanks Peter, appreciated. Will definitely consider adding the share by email buttons in the future.

  • I visited Beijing a few years ago and the thing that struck me the most was being the minority. I walked to the grocery store one day and didn’t see a single non Chinese person then entire time. It was an eerie feeling. (But worth it to get those wonderful sweet buns they sold – I still miss them.) And everyone wanted to have their picture taken with us, like we were some kind of alien species, especially my tall, blond daughter.

    In addition to the bus confrontation you mentioned, the Chinese seem to have no idea what standing in a line means. He who pushes through the hardest wins, and everyone pushes. Learned that pretty quick buying train tickets.

    That being said, I too loved exploring China and am very happy to have crossed that off my bucket list.

    • Hey Carole! I noticed that, too. I think in 3 days in Wuhan I noticed 1, maybe 2 other Westerners.

      And we had a few line cutters at the train station as well. There’s a bit of an art to protecting your ground the closer you get to the window. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

  • An interesting piece Andrew, I look forward to visiting China soon. But I think they have Google and You Tube alternatives there, or something.. But probably filtered thoroughly.

    • They do have Chinese versions of Google and YouTube so if you search for something in English the results are practically useless.

      Andrew let me know if you are still around in Shenzhen. I live here.

  • very good piece on China. I go there 2-3 times a year for purchasing.

    For the internet, get a VPN on your phone and computer. it gives you 5-15 minutes of access at a time to the regular internet you are used to. start using apple maps or yahoo instead of google and you’ll be fine. buy a simm chip for your phone (make sure you pay extra for 4g outside of shanghai and other key cities, they only give you 3g which in china is worse than dial up).

    after going to china, my best analogy is its like scuba diving. you are in the fish’s world, they are not in yours. its like that China – we’re in their world.

    the craziest thing is the traffic and the amazing number of different types of vehicles that are moving in every direction all the time.

    foreigners are a just an oddity unless you are in Hong Kong, which of course is not like mainland china at all.

    I have said for years the benevolent dictator form of government is far and away the most effective. we have an oligarchy kept in place through racism and fear and its getting bogged down. I think we’ll make it through when we have a majority non white population but I can’t say for sure.

    one further chinese business take away: they are not like american business though they front like they are. the word “quality” or “guarantee” doesn’t mean the same thing there. be prepared to eat some costs in dealing with them. keep in mind, in 20 years they went from rice farmers to the worlds second biggest economy (though not sure what it would be if the valued their currency correctly). every time you go there it’s basically 6 to 1 on US dollars. same exchange rate.

    cheers

    • Thanks Chris! Definitely used proxy servers to get around the censorship, but those would be spotty – sometimes they worked and sometimes they wouldn’t. The best way I found was to tether to my phone with my Hong Kong based SIM card. It was 100% non-filtered internet and worked well even after we crossed the border well into mainland China.

  • Very interesting. Thanks for handing us your experience which is much richer than what you see on the news.

  • Thank you for sharing your experience in China. I traveled around China in year 2000, the year they were trying to win the bid for the Summer Olympics. I was amazed at how they could amass resources. Beijing was undergoing massive construction projects to help win the bid and I believe they corralled every piece of heavy equipment from around the country to make it happen. I spoke with Embassy workers who told me that they set up monopolies at the snap of a finger. The cultural differences are deep and pervasive. It’s interesting to observe their growth and evolution. Your blog post helps!

    • Wow, sounds really interesting Jennifer. I’m sure things have changed dramatically in the last 15 years – would have loved to seen that massive worksite in Beijing.

      • Even more interesting was the lack of resources in other places. I saw women digging trenches by hand outside a train station in Guilin (spelling?). I couldn’t believe it. Where are the backhoes?

  • Hey Andrew

    Just wondering,how this trip is involved in your business model of dropshipping and whether it had any effect,or was it a normal exploratory trip?

    Great post nonetheless and you pretty much described everything about China,i’m in Guangzhou operating a sourcing and forwarding company for product selection and running a blog for teaching people how to deal with China business wise.

    Next time you’re there please let me know,i would be delighted if we can even just take a photo together.

    • Will do, Ahmed. We were actually in Guangzhou – that’s where we did the product sourcing! Too bad we missed you. I’m still drop shipping, but starting to work toward designing our own products – hence the trip to China to learn, source materials and start getting comfortable with the process. Hope to supplement drop shipping with selling our own goods in the very near future (currently designs are underway) as I think that’s increasingly where eCommerce is headed for independent merchants.

  • Great post, Andrew. As a current resident of Guangzhou, so much of what you said is spot on and Im glad you enjoyed your time in this amazing country!

  • Hey Andrew, I LOVED this post. All I know about China is what I hear from Chinese people I talk to or what I read online. I thought that it was a polluted and miserable country, with a lot of corruption and a huge difference between rich and poor. I’m glad it’s not like that. But yeah, when you leave mainland China, it’s like you go back in time.

    • Thanks Stefan, glad you liked it! To be fair, some of what you said is true – it is really polluted and there is a pretty massive difference between rich and poor. But there are a lot of good things, too, which you don’t always hear about. 😉

  • Very enlightening and enjoyable to read. Thank you so much for sharing. I now have a desire to visit china.

    • Thanks Stoops! Yeah, pretty wild and totally different to our instincts here in the U.S. Hope all is well at FBC!

  • Love the writing style Andrew!

    I was in China for about 2 weeks (originally planned to stay 2 months) back in May – phenomenal food but the Internet situation was a deal-breaker…

    • Hey X! Glad you liked it and thanks!

      Didn’t get into it in the post, but loved the food there as well. Also had a few Chinese specialities (pig’s blood, chicken’s feet) that while I didn’t fall in love with were interesting to try. Did you happen to have a favorite dish? We had some spicy szechuan food that was really, really good.

      Hope all is well in the world of email!

      • Awesome! I’m impressed you had the courage to try all those ‘exotic’ foods 🙂 Too many favorites to count!

  • Andrew thank you for writing this. I’m not sure if you’re game for it, but if you could do a follow-up piece about why exactly you were there and how/why your interactions related directly to your e-com business, that would be tremendously helpful.

    • Hey Jordan! I was in China to source some materials for a new product we’re working on. Not quite ready to reveal all the details, but hope to be able to share more info in the future about it, so will try to write more from an eCommerce and China perspective in the future when the time is right.

      Appreciate your reading!

  • I was really disappointed to read your comments, you have either demonstrated your ignorance of history or your indifference to it. You deserve the dictator you blindly pledged your alliegance to in your article.

    • So here’s an example of the efficient dictatorship model for you to chew on:

      My wife, a Chinese-born and raised U.S. citizen, was visiting her family in China. She was pregnant and had our two year daughter with her. Because of the one-child policy (your “efficient” dictatorship policy, having decided what’s best for the people of China), a pregnant woman with a toddler child sticks out like a sore thumb.

      The police visited her family’s home three times while she was visiting in China. Once to find out who she was and what she was doing there (even though she had already registered, in compliance with the law). A second time to verify her U.S. passport, and a third time to make sure she had left China. Each time they reminded her of the one-child policy and to make sure she was leaving before our son was born.

      Here is the perspective you may have missed. The Chinese government enforces the one-child policy with forced abortions. I have heard first-hand accounts from pregnant mothers who were abducted from their homes and forced to have an abortion against their will in the name of the law, the one-child policy. Who knows how things may have turned out if there had been a misunderstanding, or if the PSB agent had been having a bad day, and wanted to make an example of her, or any number of other variables. The only thing that saved our unborn child was my wife’s U.S. passport, IMO.

      I hope you reconsider your allegiance to dictatorship before it really happens to you.

      • Hey Robbie – thanks for your comment. To be clear, I in no way approve of or condone the way the Chinese government has acted in terms of human rights abuses. The story you tell is abhorrent and really, really sad. I was commenting only on the efficiency of having a one party in control IF (and this is a big if) they are completely benevolent to other’s interests which, of course, isn’t always the case. That’s why I said:

        “If we could ensure a just and infallible dictator who had our best intentions at heart, I’d vote that person into office in an instant. ”

        …but obviously that’s not the case here. To be clear, I’m not defending the Chinese government, especially in situations like this. As you bring up, there are a lot of serious problems with the system.

  • I have been working in both HK & China for the past 8 years and something strikes me when it comes to cultural and especially business differences.
    China produces always more, faster, cheaper. Hong Kong stands more on the innovation side. The fact is, in the past 10 years, the unstoppable growth of TaoBao has been “stealing” great market shares from HK online-based businesses. It’s always hard to fight with larger choice / cheaper prices. But if there is one learning I’d like to share with all oversea businesses fighting with China competition, it’s the following one: don’t base your focus on pricing / quantity.

    Hong Kong businesses are learning it the hard way: there is very little you can do to be price competitive when you live next to China. There is also so much you can do when it comes to product variety against a giant like TaoBao. What you can do however is to extend your service and delight your customers with a better experience.
    Let’s take the logistics bit of Ecommerce for instance – too often forgotten.
    Recently, local players such as EasyVan have been offering delivery services to Ecommerce platforms around HK and enable them to do same day delivery. This is a huge difference in terms of customers experience that China couldn’t compete with! Enabling your clients to receive their items within 2 hours after their purchase is a game changer!

    You certainly know the proverb “In a fight between a bear and an alligator, it is the terrain which determines who wins.”. Same applies here: don’t fight a battle you can’t win on a field you don’t master, take it to a place you know and control.

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