Apr 05, 2016

    Buy online? My cup of tea, say China drinkers


    THE Chinese green tea market is taking on a distinctly modern feel, as e-commerce platforms team up with leading producers to meet growing consumer demand for the freshest leaves picked in early spring.

    The time around Tomb Sweeping Day, yesterday, is among the tea market's busiest of the year, when tender shoots are picked to make the first batches of spring tea.

    With that in mind, Suning Commerce Group, the country's largest electronics retailer, launched a tea-selling campaign earlier this month on its group-buying site, which is already raking in orders.

    The strategy is simple, said Wang Di, general manager of ju.suning.

    Partnering with 12 tea producers from eastern China, home to the country's most notable tea growing areas, he added that the company has already been pre-selling the freshest spring tea to consumers, which helps reduce distribution channels and speeds up the delivery process.

    "This is a typical, modern consumer-to-business model.

    "We collect orders online and the producers then make and package the tea based on demand," he said.

    The sales model not only allows consumers to quickly get what they want but also enables producers to gauge how much demand there will be, to make better business decisions.

    Longjing, a type of green tea grown in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, was the most popular, with over 18,000 orders at an average price per order of 187 yuan (S$39), Suning figures show.

    Other top sellers include Maofeng tea and Lu'an Melon Seed tea.

    "Within three days of pre-orders, we generated 86,500 orders, worth more than 11 million yuan," Mr Wang added.

    But his company is not alone in adopting more modern approaches to the ancient trade, as Chinese consumers rekindle their enthusiasm for drinking tea.

    Last year, e-commerce rivals Alibaba Group and both launched their own spring tea online promotions, to help drinkers access top-quality brands at the click of a mouse.

    According to the China Tea Marketing Association, e-commerce accounted for just 8 per cent of total sales in 2014.

    But it is now the fastest-growing channel and is playing an increasingly important role in promoting the beverage, particularly to younger people.

    Wu Guangwu, who is in charge of marketing Shifeng Longjing tea at Wangyutai, a time-honoured tea brand in China, said the chain has already embraced online selling.

    The new model, he added, is also an efficient way to curb the prevalence of fake products because fresh tea can be offered quicker straight from the growers before knock-offs even appear.

    But not everyone is buying the concept. Some consumers are concerned that tea sold online may be of inferior quality.

    One of them is Tan Tan, a 49-year-old white-collar worker in Bazhong, Sichuan province, who has been a regular drinker for a decade.

    "Online ordering is convenient. I am quite open to the new approach but only on the premise that tea sold online must be genuine and of the same quality as those sold in brick-and-mortar stores."