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Gen Z E-commerce Entrepreneurs in Yiwu Rush to an Emerging Blue Ocean Market

What happens when a regular, Gen Z boy stumbles upon a great opportunity in his hometown to rush a blue ocean market with Southeast Asia’s leading e-commerce platform? For those who are unaware, blue ocean is an entrepreneurship industry term created in 2005 to describe a new market with little competition or barriers standing in the way of innovators. So what is that Li chanced upon? Stick around to find out! 

We meet Li, a student who graduated from Henan four years ago. He and his uncle came to Yiwu to learn how to run a business. Li was first preoccupied with enjoying life and keeping up with the latest trends. He wasn’t all that interested in doing business. Until last year, when Li finally decided to quit messing around and launched his own cross-border e-commerce store after seeing his cousin’s swift development. His store, on the other hand, wasn’t doing so well at first.

“There was no hint of expansion,” said Li. “Then something happened that radically changed my mind. On March 12, Lazada, which is Alibaba’s main Southeast Asian e-commerce platform, conducted its inaugural seller recruitment conference in Yiwu. I was attracted by the prospect of hundreds of sellers from Yiwu and the neighboring areas. I knew I had to be there.”

At the conference, Li met General Manager of Lazada’s cross-border business, Yi Qian who announced that the platform would provide Yiwu sellers with services such as free cross-border shipping and free order pickup with a low threshold. On top of that, they will provide new sellers with systematic support and incubation programmes, such as no commission for the first 90 days after starting a new store and additional specialized traffic support to answer sellers’ worries about logistics and payment processes.

Li knew he had to jump on this.

He hurriedly created a Lazada store and saw that the cross-border e-commerce business has undergone an astonishing shift in just two months. As a blue ocean market, Yiwu sellers are flocking to Southeast Asia’s e-commerce sector. Yiwu, Li’s hometown, has evolved from a little hamlet known for swapping sugar for chicken feathers during the early stages to being a city that boasts the “International Trade City,” offering the world with a wide range of economical and high-quality items.

Following the outbreak of the pandemic, Southeast Asia’s “stay-at-home economy” exploded, with products in the kitchen supplies, cleaning and storage, fitness and sports, and entertainment sectors seeing explosive development. Kitchen goods have seen a tenfold surge in sales among them. Some Yiwu sellers with sharp business acumen became the earliest gainers of the booming e-commerce business in Southeast Asia . During the Seller Recruitment Conference, a Yiwu seller selling outdoor products shared his story of how he ran a store on Lazada for two years and became one of the best-selling stores under the cycling category.

Such an achievement was an eye-opener for Li.

Li’s store was up and running in no time. He primarily distributes several types of balloons for parties and started out with only a dozen stock keeping units (SKUs) and no advertising. To his amazement, he began receiving orders. Even if he hasn’t put much work into running the store, it begins to grow steadily, often tenfold or even twentyfold. Lazada established a drop-off location in Beiyuan some time ago. Li remarked, “I’m very fortunate! My office is only 800 meters from the drop-off site. Driving there takes me less than 5 minutes.”

Li is becoming increasingly busy as more orders arrive. He’ll pick up things from local manufacturers after waking up, based on orders he received the day before. Then he’ll return to his company, pack orders with his cousin’s help, and deliver them to the drop-off location. In less than two months, Lazada fulfilled the promise made by Yi Qian at the Seller Recruitment Conference.

"We focus on helping Yiwu sellers with one key task only, that is, after a seller receives an order, all he has to do is to pack the order and hand it to us. Lazada will take care of the rest"

A few days ago, Li just moved into a bigger office. In the warehouse, his friends were busy storing items. During a shopping sale, Li’s store saw a tenfold increase in orders. “Even after the initial surge, we’re still getting a lot of orders every day, even after the campaign is gone. As a result, I’ve also enrolled in the 6.6 Super Sale!”

As stores start getting more orders, the quality of logistic services becomes more crucial. Currently, orders shipped from Yiwu to Southeast Asian countries take about a week to arrive. “If we want to shorten the delivery time even more and reduce logistics costs, we will need to send products to overseas fulfillment centers. I’m already working on this.”

According to Li, “It’s clear that more and more people have recently begun selling on Lazada. The competition is just going to get tougher.” Li currently earns between RMB 40,000 and RMB 50,000 each month, but he does not consider himself successful. “There are a lot of vendors in Yiwu who joined Lazada before me and had bigger storefronts than mine. I once heard a colleague share his tale and was blown away by his insight and logic. It’s no surprise that he earns tens of millions of dollars each year.”

Yiwu has attracted a huge number of cross-border e-commerce enterprises after all these years of research and development. They may not be Yiwu natives, with many of them hailing from all over China, but Yiwu has helped them realize their aspirations of founding their own businesses.

Li’s story may not appear as a big deal however, he sees himself as just another cross-border e-commerce merchant in Yiwu. “Simplifying the hard activities while repeating the simplest chores,” as Steven puts it, is the key to running a successful firm.

Yi Qian once said, “Many young people are optimistic about cross-border trade and consider it a blue ocean market. They have a greater chance to succeed in Yiwu, because not only Chinese love small commodities from Yiwu, Southeast Asian people like them as well. The world is watching Yiwu.”