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Brain circuits

Four things you can learn about retail from China

Published 25 January 2022 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

China has long been known for its massive manufacturing operations, but it is poised to change retail in a much larger way. If you are in the business of selling to consumers, you would do well to look at China to get a glimpse of the future. There are four major changes on the horizon.

Beyond omnichannel. You read that right. Chinese consumers are moving beyond the idea of sales channels. Chinese companies are creating deeply integrated ecosystems where consumers can buy anything, goods, services, and anything else that comes to mind in one place.

Sustainable retail has arrived. Although counterintuitive to many, Chinese companies and consumers are starting to lead the way. Keep an eye on three sustainable retail trends from China: recycling (Alibaba resale market Xianyu), vintage (luxury service and product provider Ponhu Luxury), and agrofarming (Pinduoduo to supply their online fresh food grocery platforms).

Get ready for lifestyle commerce. Chinese companies are developing “super apps” that make the consumer the center of attention in a way that was never possible in the brick-and-mortar world. These apps gather and integrate third-party businesses in one place that brings the entire spectrum of things you might need in your life in one place. The third largest superapp, Meituan, has almost perfected this with its on-demand and location-based services.

Livestream trumping brands? This involves social media influencers discussing, assessing and selling everything you see in their daily lives and on their videos. You can already see this on platforms such as TikTok and Twitter outside of China, and it’s going to be a differentiator for consumers looking for recommendations from personalities they trust and can interact with. Influencers are becoming the filter that helps people decide which things and brands are worth their time and money.

Further reading: 

The Future of Global Retail: Learning from China’s Retail Revolution

By Winter Nie, Mark Greeven, Yunfei Feng, James Wang



Winter Nie

IMD Professor of Leadership and Change Management

Winter Nie’s expertise lies at the intersection of leadership and change management. Her work shows that the role of leadership is not to eliminate but skillfully navigate through these tensions into the future. She works with organizations on change at the individual, team, and organizational levels, looking beyond surface rationality into the unconscious forces below that shape the direction and speed of change.

Mark Greeven

Mark J. Greeven

Professor of Innovation and Strategy at IMD

Mark Greeven is Professor of Innovation and Strategy at IMD. Drawing on a decade of experience in research, teaching and consulting in China, Mark explores how to organize innovation in a turbulent world. He co-directs our Building Digital Ecosystems program.

yunfei feng

Yunfei Feng

Research Associate at IMD

Yunfei Feng is Research Associate at IMD


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