Exporting Social Commerce: from China to M17 ‘HandsUP’ Platform


When it comes to online shopping, not only has China set a new model but it is now exporting it beyond its national borders. There is no going back from Chinese social commerce but Southeast Asian companies like M17 are showing the intention to catch up


Despite being quite new for Western customers, social commerce is definitely a thing in China. When it comes to the Chinese shopping experience, buying on an ecosystem made of e-commerce platforms and social networks is not only normal but it is also obvious.

However, this latest trend has now spread far beyond national borders. Today, even the most popular social networks, as well as major e-commerce websites, are striving to merge entertainment, social engagement, and retail into a single platform. Some more successfully than others.


After years of Western technological leadership, especially American, it is now Chinese digital innovations to export technological trends to the rest of the world.


Facebook has thus introduced its own marketplace and Instagram has followed the same path providing brands with special tags that allow the user to buy the product. With a two-year delay from the Middle Kingdom, international most popular apps quickly switched from simple social media to trusted stores.

After years of Western technological leadership, especially American, it is now Chinese digital innovations to export technological trends to the rest of the world. The Chinese way of doing e-commerce is certainly a model that other countries are trying to copy, even if foreign attempts come slowly and have a less social impact.

But what is social commerce and how is China exporting this trend abroad?


social commerce - m17 handsup - shanghai - cifnews

© Unsplash. Shanghai. Chinese social commerce helped to shape a brand-new online shopping trend, which is now witnessing a high imitation rate by foreign companies.


Social commerce is the direct result of the recent drastic change in Chinese consumers’ behavior. With the rapid penetration of smartphones into Chinese lives, many aspects of the daily activities have changed and the one that changed the most is how they do and conceive purchases. What we once knew as e-commerce – an act of purchase by the user who chose to buy through an online platform – is now inevitably changed into a social activity closely linked to social networks.

This new way of doing online shopping can no longer be defined as e-commerce. Today we talk about social commerce or conversational commerce, a “hybrid” that comes from the combination of social networks, messaging applications, and shopping platforms. In particular, in China, it means getting in touch with people who share the same interests rather than just an act of purchase. Online shopping is thus perceived as a way of doing social engagement.

WeChat has already responded to this need by creating a communication-based ecosystem where retailers meet the customer by creating a relationship based on trust that is very different from that built by classic e-commerce companies.


Besides WeChat, there are some other Chinese applications which are less popular in the Western world but which represent the real forerunners of social e-commerce as we now know it such as Pinduoduo and Xiaohongshu.


The growing enthusiasm for this kind of online shopping is only likely to further grow as also worldwide users now started to express interest in social commerce. It is estimated that 70% of Chinese born after the Millennial generation will directly go on social media to purchase products or services this year.

In 2017, roughly one-quarter of US internet users had purchased a product they had discovered on a social media platform, according to Cowen and Company. No surprise, the highest occurrence was among millennials. Today, 84% of shoppers review at least one social media site before purchasing. Therefore, allowing users to buy on social media has now become one obvious solution so much so that a partnership between Snapchat and Nike to promote the new Air Jordan IIITinker” after the NBA All-Star game had the shoes sell out in a record 23 minutes.

The Asian Dragon thus turned out to be not only a model for its growing technology but it also exports its digital innovation and M17 Group is another company, which has taken a cue from the Chinese experience to boost its online shopping.


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© HandsUP. For buyers, M17’s service HandsUp is super fuss-free. All it takes is a “+1” in the comments to place an order for their desired item.


Similar to social commerce channels, live-streaming also gives consumers the opportunity to engage with merchants about their products live and is proving to be a lucrative channel for customer conversion. Today, e-commerce penetrates the majority of live-streams whether through fashion show broadcasts or via internet celebrities reviewing the latest cosmetic product, enabling consumers to buy what they see on the screen in real-time.

The Taipei-based live technology and content company M17 Entertainment Group has recently joined the brand-new “live shopping” trend. In May, the company’s founder and CEO Joseph Phua announced the launch of HandsUP service, a B2B live and social commerce SaaS (Software as a service) product, marking its official foray into the digital commerce sector.

Established in 2017, M17 grew to become the biggest live technology and entertainment content player in developed Asia within two years. It has offices in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the US. With an existing user base of over 60 million people and 15,000 content creators and influencers, M17 seeks to pave the way for the next generation of live and social commerce.


According to the founder, the core technology, mechanisms and product innovations in HandsUp are the creations of the dynamic “Migo” company, which M17 acquired in 2018 and whose team shares the group’s mission to enable global connections through live technology and entertainment.


The group’s content creators and their social communities are now connected with HandsUP sellers in order to provide them an easy selling tool through these communities. The talents’ ability to stream and sell simultaneously increases efficiency for sellers and eliminates intensive man-hours spent compiling orders manually, in addition to minimizing errors, which greatly simplifies the shopping flow.

The service harnesses live content and interactivity to create an all-in-one platform which aggregates “+1” comments from various social media platforms to complete orders. With just one click, sellers can sell live through multiple social platforms, facilitate order-taking across social platforms in real time and automate transactions based on comments captured. Therefore, leveraging the company’s proven live stream technology experience, the service aims to simplify the process of social discovery and live-selling for the seller, as well as the live-social shopping experience for the buyers.

The HandsUp service thus integrates live-streaming, social communities, and e-commerce, as well as the power and know-how of influencers and Key Opinion Leaders, to unlock the immense market potential of live social commerce. According to M17 Group, which also includes dating giant Paktor and GaiGai, the company is expected to generate over $300 million in revenue this year.


social commerce - m17 - live-streaming - cifnews

© Unsplash. Live-streaming in China is not only booming but it is also fueling Chinese e-commerce with nearly 32% of customers now buying products directly on real-time video platforms.


China has already moved away from the Western model of operating e-commerce and live-streaming as separate entities for some time now. But instead, the Chinese trend to integrate live-streaming, e-commerce, and social communities to unlock the market potential of live social commerce is now influencing the global e-commerce market.

Beijing has managed to expand the social commerce trend abroad, influencing the customers’ behavior, as well as the companies’ tech development, way beyond its national borders.

With M17, Southeast Asia has demonstrated that the Dragon has set a brand-new model, from which e-commerce companies now can develop their own commercial strategies and innovative technologies. Joseph Phua has leveraged Chinese experience, further developing the starting model, showing that there is room for Southeast Asia to join the Dragon in its seek for digital transformation.

There is no going back from the Chinese model. But the question now is: are the Western countries able to catch up?


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