When I relocated from Mumbai to Beijing in September 2015, little did I realize not only is vegetarian food, including Indian cuisine, easy to find but e-stores in China sell Indian groceries and even rare Indian vegetables like drumsticks!
By then, I was already a registered user of a million online marketplaces and service providers in India. But nothing had prepared me for the wondrous world of Chinese e-shopping. I still feel I've explored only a strait in a vast ocean.
Every time I open the Taobao or JD app, I see there's some new feature or another. Its videos, colorful graphics, live streamed promotions remind me of the joke that in the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth, and after that, everything else was made in China. Fool-proof packaging and super-efficient logistics reinforce that feeling.
My love affair with Chinese e-commerce continues. I'm not sure if my never-married status - single and, yay, happy - is to blame. Is a girlfriend really more expensive than shopping on Taobao, Tmall, JD and Pinduoduo combined?
Talking of expenses, I don't keep track anymore. Artificial intelligence, which has become integral to e-shopping, does. The platforms are so intuitive and easy to use that once you figure out the simple one-two-three-four stepwise process, you could emerge an e-shopping champion, even without knowing Chinese. It's tech that got me hooked in spite of the language barrier.
So, when Alibaba founder Jack Ma told Tesla's Elon Musk the other day that he is not unduly enamored of tech, I almost chuckled. The Alibaba Group and its affiliates rely on tech, including big data and AI, so much it can annoy consumers sometimes.
Moments after you buy a product, would you want to be bombarded indefinitely with hundreds of recommendations for similar or same products? I find this aspect of AI, and in-app search results, primitive, amusing, dumb and inexplicable.
As an expat, I'll concede, however, that it's relatively easier to register on and use tech-driven Chinese apps, websites and services. Last month, I was aghast to note India's new-age mobile and internet services provider does not accept a valid passport as proof of identity to issue a new SIM card. It insists on an ID that India's Supreme Court had already ruled is inessential or optional. Suffice to say the Chinese ecosystem is definitely better geared to innovate technology for making life easier for common people.
In China, I buy almost everything I need, and then some, on e-commerce platforms - groceries, snacks, accessories, cutlery, crockery, outerwear, innerwear, footwear, household stuff, electronics, data storage devices, mobile phones, gifts, medicine, wellness and health products, fruits, novelties, what have you.
Deep-discount coupons on WeChat groups tempt me into buying goods that I later realize I don't really need. But then, they also sensitize me to some other useful products that I did not even know were manufactured. The Singles Day shopping festival on Nov 11 (11-11) no longer enthralls me.
Inferior, substandard or fake products are not uncommon, while refunds and replacements aren't difficult either; but, low-value items could mean you'd prefer not to bother returning the broken stuff but lump the losses. It's best not to buy fruit, fresh dairy, cheap wine, and certain electronics online.
Initially, dirt-cheap Taobao deals seemed irresistible. Now, however, in line with the ongoing consumption upgrade, and encouraged by the ease of using Chinese tech, I am beginning to explore more e-shopping options.
A direct communication channel with the e-shopping platform itself (not just sellers) and a multilingual option can add value to e-shopping in China. Single-language apps are a shame, and a colossal disservice to the consumption upgrade drive.