BEIJING — Chinese Cyber Day happened before the American online shopping spree. Chinese e-commerce sites came together this year to create Single’s Day, a holiday for the unhitched, by declaring a 50 percent sale across the board on all e-commerce sites. The date was set for Nov. 11, which is written as “11.11” in China.

On the day, Chinese shoppers demonstrated their overwhelming enthusiasm for online shopping by literally crashing all e-commerce sites. The final tallies are not in yet, but the two biggest e-commerce sites, Taobao and Tianmao, owned by Jack Ma, have already revealed their total sales figure: 19 billion renminbi in 24 hours! And 300 million renminbi in the first two hours alone, even though the server crashed twice during that time.

This story first appeared in the November 28, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

There is little else that can indicate to the retailing industry that e-commerce has arrived in the second largest market in the world. What this means is that the Chinese retail landscape will change drastically in coming years. It will look more like the United States.

I have always held the view that the next generation of Chinese, people who were born in the Eighties and Nineties, are fundamentally different from their predecessors. They are the cyber generation, the globalized generation, the generation that grew up with Mickey Mouse on their TV set. It might be a pirated copy, but it is still Mickey.

This makes a huge difference. U.S. media seems determined to emphasize how China is different from the U.S. In truth, we are not. At least young Chinese under 35 living in urban centers are very in sync with America and Europe. Take the TV series “Gossip Girl” — Chinese not only know about it, but actually engage each other on social networks to talk about Blair’s new boyfriend.

This might not be good news for the U.S. entertainment industry, since most Chinese are accessing pirated copies of the program, but it certainly makes selling American fashion to the Chinese consumer a lot easier.

The generational difference is not talked about as much as political differences in China. This scares American business people since, with a strong home market, there is no reason why one should risk expansion into a “hostile” culture. Really, China is different, but not that different. With e-commerce coming of age and a new generation of Chinese who grew up drinking the American Kool-Aid, honestly, what are you waiting for?


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