For most of us in the marketing and technology industries, the term ‘social commerce’ is a byword for ‘a bit of a flop’.

The initial dreams of a perfect harmony between social networks and ecommerce have gradually faded into a reality of unsuccessful Buy buttons and niche communities that failed to catch on, and with the exception of some recent positive press in Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report for 2018, that doesn't show much sign of changing.

At least, in the west. In China, it’s a slightly different story. The world’s largest ecommerce market is currently being disrupted by a fast-growing new app called Pinduoduo, which has discovered a highly successful recipe for making ecommerce social.

Pinduoduo’s model, which combines low prices with group discounts that users can lock in by rounding up their friends on social media, has seen it quickly rise to the ranks of China’s top ecommerce companies, threatening ecommerce titans like JD.com and Alibaba.

Despite being less than three years old, Pinduoduo already has more than 300 million users, is ranked by Cheetah Mobile as the second-most popular ecommerce app in China (behind Taobao), and was valued at nearly $15 billion in a recent round of funding.

So what is behind Pinduoduo’s incredible success as a social commerce app? Can it be sustained? And is it a unique phenomenon – or a model that others can follow?

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