Sharon Gai

China’s platforms like Shein, Temu, and TikTok can conquer Western markets, but Western retail apps fail to do the same in China. E-commerce expert Sharon Gai gives some reason for that difference in the Australian network ABC.


Sharon Gai is an e-commerce author, keynote speaker, and former head of global key accounts at online retail giant Alibaba.

She says the way retail apps are designed in China is “fundamentally very different” from businesses in the West, which tend to focus more on search functionality.

“So their primary goal is to get you into an app very quickly, and then out of the app very quickly as well,” Gai said.

“In China, shopping apps are oriented around discoverability — how long can we keep you inside the app, how long can we entertain you, [and] how many new brands or products or trends or styles can you discover?”

Gai also said China’s huge domestic ecommerce market — which recorded almost $3 trillion in sales last year — enables platforms like TEMU and Shein to find the best formula for attracting new customers.

But while Chinese apps have been able to adapt their models to dominate US, UK and Australian markets, Western apps are struggling to achieve the same success bringing their business to China.

Last week, corporate social media giant LinkedIn announced it was shutting down its China service, InCareer, after pulling its main platform from China in 2021.

According to Gai, what sets Chinese and Western apps apart is how fast they are able to respond to the market’s needs

She said at Alibaba, the team motto “changing the motor of the aeroplane, when you’re flying in the air” means moving fast to address the market.

Gai says it’s this speed that has allowed Chinese companies to adapt to Western markets and become the preferred platforms for shoppers worldwide.

More in ABC.

Sharon Gai is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

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