I could have never imagined that my cousin would one day sell jewelry through her WeChat account and make a grand success of it. The business venture changed her life. It also set a record of sorts in our extended family - none of my relatives has ever engaged in business before.
Five years ago, she quit her job and decided to start a business. First, she opened an online store on Alibaba's e-marketplace Taobao. She sold clothes and luxury products with ample help from her best friend in France.
The latter would chose products and have them shipped to China. My cousin would then peddle them via Taobao.
The interactive e-store enabled their customers to offer feedback, suggestions, ideas, besides placing requests for specific products.
In a sense, the friend in France and my cousin were daigou - shopping representatives or proxy shoppers. They would buy what consumers wanted. This aspect is distinct to China's cross-border e-commerce.
Slowly, their informal, small-time business grew. In the process of selling luxury products via e-commerce platforms, my cousin found jewelry to be a very promising business proposition.
She told me she was bullish on its future prospects. The internet, she said, was another important sales channel, a tool, if you will. At that time, I doubted that. I used to wonder how she could earn real money from a virtual world.
But then, she was confident and registered a company with her savings. She clinched cooperation deals with foreign jewelry companies. She imported raw materials, and even sought out domestic companies that can polish and produce jewelry.
At this point, the natural businesswoman in her rose to the fore. Which meant, she would not part with trade secrets even with me, her own cousin. Business means business. More so if the cousin happens to be a business journalist, you see.
My cousin's company grew its clientele slowly but surely. They are a set of people who tick certain boxes. Like ... Wealthy? Tick. Quality-conscious? Tick. Modern-minded? Tick. Chic? Tick. Tick, tick, tick, tick...
These are women who live in Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shanghai. About two years ago, she started selling jewelry even through her WeChat account. There's a Chinese word for such people - weishang (or online micro-business owners). I have no idea how she zeroes in on her customers.
Networking? Probably. Friends' friends? Maybe. Be that as it may.
I don't get unduly excited when friends recommend that I buy certain products via WeChat. But, here's a hard truth: more and more people in my circle of friends are becoming weishang, and spamming me with their wares.
Did someone say hell hath no fury like a female business journalist spammed?
But some of my friends-turned-sellers/product-promoters insist that stuff sold through social media is more reliable because it is recommended by friends. Some of my non-weishang friends are ever willing to buy, buy, buy.
To be sure, the internet has changed our lives. And now, e-commerce and social networks are growing millionaires as if they were mushrooms. Opportunities and success, it appears, are chasing those who dare to be active, those who set out to discover and those who dare to fail.
So, in my spare time, I get a bit enthusiastic and try to find their fascinating, inspirational stories by buying overseas products. I buy them through cross-border e-commerce platforms such as Ymatou, Xiaohongshu (Red) and Tmall International. I think their quality is guaranteed.
I also seek some daigou with high rankings, good reputation, user comments and many followers on their Taobao stores. I see online retailers are fiercely competitive. Their delivery speed and after-sales service are factors that influence my online shopping. Among the products that catch my fancy most are handbags, cosmetics and clothes. E-commerce is a fascinating place because you can compare the prices on different websites and e-stores, and chat with store clerks before making a final decision.
These days, I seldom buy clothes at brick-and-mortar stores unless they are offering deep discounts.
As I see it, the rapid growth of online shopping is a challenge to the traditional retail industry. Improved shopping experiences, reasonable prices and application of high-tech appear to be the future trend.
Who knows, my cousin may well branch out to a physical jewelry store next. I wish her well. And I hope I'd get a deep discount at any such store.