Many Belgian SME’s planning to enter the Chinese market have limited resources and decide not to spend too much energy on market research. However, in a complicated market such as China, it is crucial to understand the features, spending habits and needs of your target customers, as well as potentially valuable information about your competitors, their products, services and pricing, distribution channels, marketing, etc. Even a small mistake at the early stage can prove costly further down the line.
There are several ways to conduct market research in China on a limited budget. You can even do this research from your desk in Belgium and a lot of information is available in the English language too. For some information you need to be able to speak Chinese or ask a Chinese speaking friend or colleague.
Here are some items which you can check online:
- Trademarks and other intellectual properties: is my trademark registered in China yet or are there any similar trademarks in China? What about patent protection in China? www.chinatrademarkoffice.com; http://wcjs.sbj.cnipa.gov.cn/txnT01.do; the China IPR SME Helpdesk at www.china-iprhelpdesk.eu.
- Foreign exporters and manufacturers list: is my company or factory registered as an overseas exporter or manufacturer at Chinese customs? http://ire.customs.gov.cn
- Tariffs and taxes: do I need to take into account any import tariffs or taxes when importing my products into the Chinese market? Are there any restrictions in the import of my products in China? www.hsbianma.com and http://madb.Europa.eu/madb/indexPubli.htm
- Standards: what are the national level standards or other industry standards for my products in China? www.sac.gov.cn
- Finding competitors and prices: check e-commerce platforms in English: epermarket.com, yhd.com, baopals.com, or in Chinese: Taobao.com, tmall.com, tmall.com.hk, JD.com, 1688.com, etc.
- Search in Chinese social media apps: conducting keyword searches will help you to get inside the mind of your Chinese customer. Free analytical tools are available online to help, for example in Wechat, Weibo, Tieba, Zhihu, Baidu, Bing, etc. WeChat even has a feature to scan barcodes of products in western supermarkets to check where and at which prices these products are sold in China.
- Checking the financials of a potential partner in China: ask your potential partner’s business license, check the National enterprise credit information public system: http://www.gsxt.gov.cn/index.html and https://www.tianyancha.com/ (only from China) or the tianyancha WeChat miniprogram.
- Screening of your potential partner: apart from a legal and financial check of your potential partner, there is another simple trick to get more information from your potential partner: just ask him! If they are really willing to work with you, they will be happy to share information. You will be surprised how much information they are willing to share.
Unfortunately, traveling to China is impossible these days, but a reliable market research in China also requires a visit to China and some ‘on-the-ground field work’. Some examples of research to be done in China:
- Ask your potential customers for their feedback face-to-face
- Talk to industry professionals and/or China experts
- Attend networking events and social events
- Visit exhibitions
- Do store checks
- Talk to other Belgian companies active in China
The Belgian regional export and investment agencies can obviously also help with market information about China: Flanders Investment and Trade, AWEX and hub.brussels. Furthermore, there is the EU SME Centre, a European Union initiative that provides a comprehensive range of hands-on support services to European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), getting them ready to do business in China: https://www.eusmecentre.org.cn.
And last but certainly not least, the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC) and many of its members have a great network in China and can help Belgian SME’s to get in touch with potential partners in China.