More than half (61%) of Chinese consumers say they are loyal to e-commerce players such as Taobao, JD and Tmall - by far the highest loyalty ratings across all sectors nationwide - according to a study into the habits of Chinese consumers by global marketing firm Epsilon. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

While this year's results were consistent with many of the key trends cited in Epsilon's past China loyalty studies - vibrant Chinese consumer spending despite overall economic slowdown and higher trust in foreign brands over local brands, the rising allegiance of consumers to e-commerce players observed in this year's study indicates that brands across dozens of sectors selling products online will need to carefully consider how to position their products in the online marketplace to secure and defend the loyalty of Chinese consumers.

With US$540 billion spent in China's online shops in 2014, e-commerce is by now so ubiquitous that Chinese online platforms have successfully inserted themselves as a formidable layer between consumers and product brands. They have restructured the value chain, sending consumer brands scrambling to create a sustainable competitive advantage in an increasingly dynamic marketplace. By capturing targeted awareness through data insights and by standing at the forefront of online customer service, e-commerce platforms are fortifying their position for years to come.

Survey respondents said they are happy to engage with e-commerce players across channels, more so than with any other sector. 35% of respondents who have purchased online stated they are open to receiving promotions from e-commerce brands by e-mail, 34% by WeChat and 27% by Weibo. Respondents were also more open to receiving information from e-commerce brands via mobile apps, QQ, video sites and product review sites than any from any other sector.

"The migration of consumer commerce to the digital realm is unfolding at lightning speed in China, disrupting marketing strategies for players across the marketplace," said Epsilon's international EVP and managing director, Dominic Powers. "A new paradigm is emerging whereby retailers need to simultaneously build brand equity while striking the right partnerships and positioning with e-commerce players."

Epsilon's research report uncovered several other China loyalty trends, such as:

  • Those companies most adept at integrating online and offline touch points to deliver a seamless customer service experience are now commanding the loyalty of Chinese consumers. Apple received the highest score for loyalty of any brand cited, registering 17% of brands respondents and cited across all categories. Lifestyle brands directly impacting consumer health, including grocery chains and restaurants, and financial services, also received high loyalty scores.
  • Now that the vast majority of Chinese digital users have migrated from micro-blog Weibo to the more private, group-based social media platform WeChat, Chinese consumers are openly welcoming social media-based loyalty communications with their preferred brands like never before. 26% of survey respondents said they prefer to interact with brands via WeChat, with email and mobile messaging falling in popularity.
  • Especially in China, the return on loyalty investment is high. Loyal customers are increasingly standing by their brands through wavering market conditions, providing a bulwark to fend off competition.
  • Loyalists across sectors were 19% more likely to visit their preferred brands more often and spend more on their favourite brands. Loyalists were more generous with their private information and more likely to refer products and services to friends.