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China's Ecommerce Market Joins the Majors

Online buyers in China are driven by availability and value

Online sales in China are flourishing. According to a new eMarketer report, “China Ecommerce: A Developing Market Begins to Boom,” consumers are embracing the internet’s ability to offer comparison shopping and product research, and marketers are eager to expand operations beyond flagship stores in established markets like Shanghai and Beijing.

As consumers in China become more comfortable buying goods online, the number of online buyers on the mainland will rise to nearly 220 million this year, further outpacing the US total of approximately 150 million, eMarketer estimates. No other country even approaches this size. By 2016, eMarketer forecasts, 423.4 million people in China ages 14 and older will make an online purchase at least annually.

Last year, business-to-consumer (B2C) ecommerce sales in China, including retail ecommerce and travel spending, reached $55.37 billion, up 103.7% over 2010, eMarketer estimates. Such sales are expected to rise another 94.1% this year, to nearly $107.5 billion. Already the second-largest B2C ecommerce market in Asia-Pacific in terms of sales behind Japan, China is the fourth-largest market in the world as ranked by B2C ecommerce sales. The country’s ecommerce sales are expected to surpass those of Japan and grab the global second-place slot from the UK in 2013.

China’s fast B2C ecommerce sales growth puts it far ahead of any other country for which eMarketer creates estimates. China will continue to hold the top spot for ecommerce sales growth throughout eMarketer’s forecast period, even as growth in the country slows to 22.8% by 2016.

Stilll there are plenty of nuances to the ecommerce market in China. Westerners mostly shop online for convenience, but in China the kick for the click is driven much more by availability and value. Shopping online means access to brands and goods otherwise not available beyond Tier 2 cities. “Try buying the latest Sony camera or a limited-edition Louis Vuitton bag somewhere like Datong without going online,” said Tim Schlick, senior vice president of strategy and market development for Asia-Pacific at Thoughtful Media Group in Shanghai.

And foreign internet brands face hurdles entering China. The country’s ecommerce market, like its search, social networking, instant messaging and gaming sectors, is currently dominated by a handful of local giants. And while online shopping certainly is on the rise, China still faces rampant piracy and counterfeiting problems. Other challenges include ruthless competition and price wars, marketing and supply-chain costs, and uncertain taxation policies.


The full report, “China Ecommerce: A Developing Market Begins to Boom,” also answers these key questions:

  • What are the main drivers of ecommerce in China?
  • Who are China’s lower-tier online shoppers?
  • Is Taobao the only platform you need to know?
  • What role will mobile commerce play in the market’s future?

This report is available to eMarketer corporate subscription clients only. Total Access clients, log in and view the report now.


Check out today’s other articles, “National Brands Find Local Affiliates Lacking in Search, Mobile Marketing” and “Social Is Still a Small Part of Customer Service.”

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