5 tips to help hatch your export plans to China

Antoaneta Becker
China Business Adviser, South West
10th February 2017

What do you find in a gift hamper for Chinese New Year? Dumplings shaped as silver ingots? Fortune cookies? Or a fiery Chinese liquor that burns your tongue but warms your insides? The answer is may be neither.  

As economic fortunes of Chinese people have changed dramatically over the past few decades, gift giving Chinese culture has taken some curious turns too. Gifts traditionally exchanged between family, friends and colleagues to wish each other a happy and prosperous Chinese new year now are more likely to feature a special Rooster edition of blue label Johnnie Walker, James Bond’s alleged favorite Little Scarlet strawberry jam by Tiptree and Daioni organic milk. A sea of change indeed and full of promise for international trade.

This month marks the start of the Year of the Rooster – and it’s the ideal time to make a new year’s resolution to spread your export wings. Whether you are a small exporter of cheese, a large business offering services for education and healthcare or a brand owner in retail, there are opportunities for growth in the Chinese market. The last 12 months have seen a steady flow of new businesses interested in exporting their goods, services, technology or brand name to China and our Chinese stars gazers see more of this in the year to come.

In the year from October 2015 to September 2016 companies in the South West exported £759 million of goods to China and Hong Kong, an increase of 35% (£198 million) on the previous year.  

China remains the second largest economy in the world and is the largest single-country market globally. In economic terms China is a universe and it matters. It is difficult to be ignored and it is better to be understood as an opportunity that we need to tap into and develop. 

As its economy transitions to a more consumer goods and services-oriented phase, the offerings of many UK companies are well suited to fill those niches. Now is the best time to look at the China opportunity with fresh eyes as the UK is very strong in services and offers high quality but affordable consumer goods.

Here are my lucky tips for first-time and experienced exporters that want to sell into China in the Year of the Rooster:

1.  First encounters: The Chinese market is maturing. Chinese people are travelling abroad in great numbers and the demand for sophisticated experiences is rising along with the desire for high quality and original products. Your brand visibility in the UK translates in awareness of it among Chinese students, visiting parents and friends and thousands of tourists. They are all prolific users of social media and love sharing experiences and impressions of brands abroad. Think about utilising these first encounters and engage early with the serendipitous “brand ambassadors”. 

2.  E-commerce rules:  With an online population of around 700 million and online sales set to account for 20% of retail sales by 2018 (Emarketer), China presents an alluring opportunity for UK brands in fashion, retail and food and drink. Now cross-border e-commerce has become the latest hot trend for Chinese e-commerce players and more and more international brands are taking advantage of this new channel. Selling across borders – using sites such as JD.com, Tmall Global or vertical platforms, before physically setting up shop is a good way of testing the water in China. 

3.  Social commerce:  When it comes to social media forget what you have at your fingertips in the UK. China has its own social media platforms and Chinese consumers are the most digitally savvy of any other nations. WeChat is one of the most popular apps and is increasingly being used as a marketing tool but also as a sales channel for brands to engage directly with consumers.

4.  Protect your business interests:  When entering the Chinese market locking down your intellectual property and making sure your business interests are protected is key. Decide which parts of your offering – trademark, copyright, patent or else, if copied, will hurt your business interests and take robust action to legally protect those aspects.  

5.  Flexibility and perseverance: It takes time to build trust and develop long-term relationships with partners to support a new business in China. Be pro-active, ready to walk the extra mile and keep an open mind and flexible attitude when approaching the market.

If you are interested in further exploring the opportunities that exist for your business in China and the support available, contact your local China Business Adviser Antoaneta Becker to discuss at: antoaneta.becker@cbbc.org.

The China-Britain Business Council (CBBC) is the leading organisation helping UK companies grow and develop their business with China. We help companies of all sizes and sectors, whether new entrants or established operations. We offer practical in-market assistance, services, industry initiatives and a membership programme providing access, seminars and networking.  (www.cbbc.org


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