According to Mintel’s Online Retail – China 2014 report, China’s leading appliances and electronics retailer Suning has re-engineered its business model to be online-led, and is leading the way in terms of the model for online-to-offline (O2O) integration between bricks-and-mortar and online-only. The company plans to completely integrate store and online systems for sales, supply chain, procurement and inventory management.

One of the department store groups quickest off the mark with its online offering was Intime Department Store, which established its yintai.com online platform in 2010, and has also established a “flagship” store on Tmall. The company has also developed two mobile shopping consumer apps, while it has also developed its online connection to its consumers via both the Sina Weibo and WeChat social media sites, according to Mintel’s Department Stores – China 2014 report.

In its 2013 interim financial report, Intime sets out its aim to “become a premium one-stop shopping solution provider”, creating a retail environment that will encourage shoppers to spend more time and have more needs fulfilled across its different retail channels, including department stores, shopping malls and online presence. The company talks of “serving as a housekeeper” to the needs of its customers and providing shopping solutions that are “relevant and rewarding for customers both in store and online”.

In April 2013, both Gap and Uniqlo launched mobile shopping apps, featuring mobile online shopping, exclusive coupons, QR code scanning and in-store search (see Mintel’s Womenswear Retailing – China 2014 report). TV advertising can also help to create mobile online access by offering QR codes to scan in TV adverts, either on TV or in back-of-seat TV screen advertising units in taxis. Such a multi-screen approach could also be used in-store by retailers, where in-store screens showing adverts for their products provide scanning codes to locate those items in-store, or simply order and pay online.

More recently, leading Chinese property developer Vanke has teamed-up with leading tech company Baidu to develop “intelligent” shopping malls, which will use location based services to help shoppers find stores, bargains and even parking spaces, as well as gather big data on shopper behaviour to help tailor data-based marketing campaigns.

In the restaurant sector, many caterers are already using iPad menus in restaurants that relay people’s orders direct to the kitchen. More people are also using smart phones to view menus, locate outlets and pre-order meals online before they have even left home to go to the restaurant.

This hotbed of online innovation is also likely to spread from China into the rest of the world. Alibaba’s US IPO this summer, which is set to be possibly the biggest listing in US history, will raise massive amounts of capital for this online giant to further its creative aspirations. Alibaba already has its sights on the US market, and has just opened its 11 Main online retail site in the US.

Online (especially mobile) retail innovations are coming thick and fast in China, outpacing developments in even highly developed markets such as the US. And increasingly those innovations forged in China will spread to the rest of the world, giving the phrase “Made in China” a whole new meaning.

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