Beyond running his own cross-border e-commerce business, Xu Yan, president of the Yiwu Cross-border E-commerce Association, also takes on the additional role of hosting foreign visitors as his daily work. These guests are drawn to Yiwu, east China’s Zhejiang Province, because of its vibrant cross-border e-commerce industry.
Recently, a delegation from South Korea visited Yiwu to gain insights into cross-border e-commerce development. A delegate expressed their interest in learning how things operate here: “We want to export Korean products globally through this channel. Given its limited scope in Korea, we’re here to learn from Yiwu’s experience.”
“We’ve welcomed delegations from Southeast Asia, Russia and South America, all coming to study and observe our practices. The largest was a group of around 150 from Southeast Asia,” said Xu. He mentioned that in 2023, Yiwu hosted over 400 cross-border e-commerce training activities.
The interest from these international delegations reflects Yiwu’s global influence. Known as the world’s largest small commodity wholesale market, it houses over 2.1 million types of commodities and trades with 233 countries and regions. According to China’s customs data, its import and export volume exceeded 560 billion yuan (around $78.8 billion) in 2023, growing over 15 percent, with a significant boost from cross-border e-commerce.
In 2023, Yiwu recorded a cross-border e-commerce transaction volume of 121.16 billion yuan, reflecting an 11.8 percent increase from the previous year and demonstrating rapid double-digit growth.
In line with this growth, the number of newly established e-commerce entities has also increased, totaling 175,700, which represents a year-on-year increase of 48.33 percent. Of the approximately 600,000 e-commerce entities, over a third do cross-border business.
The city exemplifies the swift development of cross-border e-commerce in China in recent years. Data from the General Administration of Customs shows that in 2023, China’s cross-border e-commerce exports reached 2.38 trillion yuan, a 15.6 percent increase. In the past five years, China’s cross-border e-commerce has expanded nearly tenfold.
Innovation and policy support
In 2018, Yiwu became the first county-level city included in China’s third batch of comprehensive cross-border e-commerce pilot zones. Fueled by innovation, the city has been steadily developing its cross-border e-commerce sector. This environment of growth and innovation has given rise to successful companies like RockBros.
RockBros, an Yiwu-based cross-border e-commerce company specializing in cycling equipment and accessories, releases over a dozen new products each month. Zhang Xingang, the company’s founder, stresses that the competitiveness of these products is vital to the company’s success. To maintain this edge, he holds strategy meetings with designers every Monday, focusing on the development of new products.
“In a budget of over 10 million yuan, we typically allocate about 6 to 7 million yuan specifically for product R&D and innovation. For us, product innovation is the top priority,” said Zhang.
In 2010, Zhang and his partners began their foray into cross-border e-commerce, starting from scratch in a rented three-bedroom house. Over the past decade, their office space has expanded from an initial 130 square meters to over 6,000 square meters in an office complex. They have launched over 2,000 products, raking in over 1 billion yuan in annual sales.
As businesses push the boundaries of innovation, it’s essential for policies to adapt and provide robust support. Recognizing this, Yiwu took a forward-thinking step in 2019 by integrating various market-related units to form the Market Development Committee, a specialized body dedicated to fostering growth in markets, e-commerce and other economic sectors.
The committee recently introduced measures to support companies in developing markets through their own brands, aid infrastructural construction in cross-border e-commerce industrial parks, invest in the training of cross-border e-commerce talent, and foster a conducive ecosystem for business growth.
A robust logistics network lays the foundation for the rapid growth of cross-border e-commerce. Yiwu offers a comprehensive suite of efficient logistics services for exports, including sea, land, air, rail and mail.
The Yiwu-Xinjiang-Europe (YXE) train service has established point-to-point direct international routes in 19 directions, connecting over 50 Eurasian countries and over 160 cities. The city has also set up 210 overseas warehouses in over 100 cities in 50 countries, ensuring full coverage of major trade node cities around the world.
“We work with more than 100 suppliers from across the country, receiving shipments daily,” said Zhang. “Our aim is to have these goods delivered quickly and economically. Enhanced logistics speed is key to improving our operational efficiency and capital utilization. Yiwu, with its logistical strengths, is ideally suited for our business needs.”
Home to 1,829 domestic logistics companies, Yiwu has over 2,000 specialized highway routes, covering all cities at the county level or above throughout the country. Most of these areas can facilitate direct two-way logistics with Yiwu.
“Logistics might not be a high-profit sector directly, but its role in supporting other industries is vital,” said Bei Xudong, deputy director of the Market Development Committee of Yiwu.
“Therefore, we prioritize the development of Yiwu’s modern logistics sector. We see it as a key strategic area, essential to our broader economic growth, and are dedicated to its cultivation and development,” he added.