Guest Lecture: 5 questions to Torsten Sollitzer from ChinaWeChatting

In recent years, China has developed from a global “copy-cat” to a driving force for innovation in online marketing and e-commerce. The market has produced technology giants that we in Germany have often never heard of before.

Torsten Sollitzer is someone who has a close eye on the Chinese online market and knows it inside out. The founder of ChinaWeChatting has been supporting German and European companies to enter the Chinese market for seven years.

In July, he gave a guest lecture at BU on the topic: “#China – Digital Innovation behind the Great Firewall”. Even Chinese students among the Zoom audience were amazed by one or the other insight.

For all those who missed the lecture, Torsten Sollitzer answered a few questions in an interview.

5 questions to… Torsten Sollitzer

Brand University: Hello Mr. Sollitzer, you are the founder of ChinaWeChatting. How did it come to be that you put your professional focus on China?

Torsten Sollitzer: Actually I come from the field of digital business models and have been dealing with strategies and classic business model development for 20 years now. China has been a big issue as an economic power from the very beginning, but only in recent years has it become an important online location.
I had the chance to live and work in Shanghai for three years. That’s how the expertise was added and the idea of combining both topics was born. It had been foreseeable for some time that China would become the largest and most competitive e-commerce market.

BU: How did it develop that China became the largest e-commerce market in the world?

TS: In China, e-commerce has a 25% share. Compared to Germany, with 11%, that is an incredible amount. This development was favoured by many factors. Firstly, through censorship, China has built up its own digital ecosystem. This is a great advantage, because it enables Chinese technology companies to develop local concepts for local needs. Furthermore, China is a large country with one language, one legal system, one currency – this makes online trading very easy.
It is also important to remember that half of the Chinese population lives in rural areas. In terms of distances, it is easier to reach customers online than through retail stores.

BU: How do the Chinese and German e-commerce markets differ?

TS: As already mentioned, the major players differ. Ebay and Amazon do not play a role in China, but there is Alibaba with Taobao and jd.com, for example. These companies are perfectly adapted to the Chinese market, while technology groups from the USA hardly adapt their strategies for the various global markets.
In addition, social media play a major role. In China, social media, in super apps like WeChat, can be used to generate sales directly. In 2019, WeChat Mini programs alone generated sales of 115 billion USD. Another example is e-commerce live streaming. This works like teleshopping – only live and interactive – and is extremely successful.

BU: What is the biggest challenge in the Chinese market?

TS: When a Western company wants to enter the Chinese market, cultural differences are a big issue. When entering the market, you have to be aware that it takes time, patience and budget.
The competition is much tougher than ours, so branding is even more important to win the trust of customers and build long-term relationships.
Of course you also have to look critically at the market, because fakes are still a big problem. Anyone who is too hesitant about launching a product on the market risks being copied.

BU: What can Western brands learn from China?

TS: China is very fast, even when it comes to accepting change. It would be nice if this spirit would be more present here as well.
It is also worth looking at China in terms of technical innovation. We can prepare ourselves for topics such as e-commerce live streaming and mini-programs even before they are introduced in our countries by Facebook or Apple, for example.

We would like to thank Torsten Sollitzer for the interesting conversation!