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China leapfrogs the world in social commerce

Everyone is well aware of the breakneck speed at which China is growing economically. Its breakneck pace of digital adoption is less well-known, however.  Many know of the speed with which Chinese consumers have adopted social media, but it the strength of mobile, tablets, and e-commerce that surprises.  The thing that separates China from the rest of the world is the level to which these have combined.  Smartphones and tablets flowing into the hands of more Chinese consumers every day and they are buying goods and services with these devices in numbers seen nowhere else in the world.

As the chart from GlobalWebIndex Q2 2012 data shows, nearly 75% of Chinese internet users are buying products and services online.  What is more, almost 40% are buying through mobile and tablet devices as well!  It is the absolute number of people purchasing goods and services online is a staggering 379 million in China as of the same period.


Bubble size indicates the population of online buyers (all access points)

Peer review is key to the e-commerce environment

The rapid growth of the Chinese e-commerce market is one of the most astounding trends we can find in the online space. One of the major catalysts for the growth that we have seen has been the integration of social features in the e-commerce platforms.  At the outset, Chinese consumers had a deep sense of mistrust about online retailers in many respects, but as social features were introduced, they eliminated these concerns. This is reflected in the sheer amount of Chinese online buyers that are posting opinions and commenting about the products and services they buy online.  Some 94% of Chinese consumers that buy products through mobiles or tablets are actively commenting about their purchases after the fact.  For those buying exclusively through PCs or laptops online, this number rises to 97%!  Compare this to 53% and 62% respectively for the US, and we can see immediately ingrained the culture of social feedback has become in the Chinese online retail space.

Leaving the rest of the world behind

China stands alone in terms of social, mobile, and e-commerce adoption.  While the first-mover internet markets such as those in Western Europe and the North America still have very strong e-commerce markets, these are still PC focused, and social buying is still somewhat of a novelty.  Price comparison sites and consumer reviews are important, but the trust in retailers and brands in these markets lessens the impact.  In contrast, other emerging internet markets in the APAC and LATAM regions shows signs of higher multi-device buying levels, but their overall e-commerce sectors are less developed than that of China.  The key takeaway from this insight is that we should be looking to the Chinese market for innovation and insight into the future of e-commerce around the world.

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Brett Petersen

Director, Strategy Consulting at GlobalWebIndex
As Director of Stream Intelligence I am currently responsible for leading all GWI research and insight generation. My core role is consulting with agencies and corporates to build comprehensive strategies for communications, product development, and business planning. I have a global remit at GWI which has allowed me to develop a knowledge of markets and online cultures across the globe and gives me a unique global perspective.

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