BEIJING, April 12, 2012—Online retail sales in China will triple to more than $360 billion by 2015, powered both by growing numbers of Internet users and by greater consumer acceptance of e-commerce, according to a report by The Boston Consulting Group.
If not by 2015, then shortly thereafter, China will likely become the largest online retail market in the world, with close to 10 percent of retail sales occurring online. It already has more online shoppers than any other market, including the U.S.
Once a fascination of the young and wealthy, the Internet is fast becoming a mass medium. China will have 700 million Internet users in 2015—nearly 200 million more than today—and twice the online population of Japan and the U.S. combined. In 2011, Chinese consumers spent 1.9 billion hours a day online—an increase of 60 percent from two years earlier, according to China’s Digital Generations 3.0: The Online Empire.
“In just a few years, China has become the largest Internet market in the world. It will shortly be the most significant, too,” said Christoph Nettesheim, a BCG senior partner and coauthor of the report. “Companies with global ambitions need to have an active online presence in China if they expect to succeed.”
Average time online per user increased from 2.8 to 3.6 hours per day between 2008 and 2011. Chinese users spend about an hour a day more on the Internet than U.S. users.
China’s overall penetration rate will exceed 50 percent by 2015, compared with 38 percent in 2011. The fastest-growing segment will be urban consumers aged 51 and older—a sign that the Internet is spreading through Chinese society. This segment will likely expand by 22 percent annually.
Half of Internet users say that the Internet is their most trusted source of information, followed by television at 30 percent and newspapers at 15 percent, according to our research. Young professionals and university students lead the pack, with 70 percent and 63 percent, respectively, citing it as their most trustworthy information source.
China has 193 million online shoppers, compared with 170 million in the U.S. Between 2009 and 2011, the share of Internet users who shop online rose from 28 percent to 36 percent. The share of online shoppers will likely reach 47 percent by 2015.
As the Chinese become more comfortable with the Internet, they are becoming more adventurous. For instance, 79 percent of Chinese Internet users send instant messages, compared with just 21 percent of U.S. users. They are also bigger consumers of online music (79 percent versus 61 percent) and e-books (40 percent versus 7 percent). Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, has attracted 300 million users in less than three years of operation.
“Faster than in any other major economy, the Internet is becoming embedded in Chinese society,” said David C. Michael, a BCG senior partner and coauthor of the report. “The rapid growth represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for companies that figure out how to connect with China’s digital generations.”
Most companies have not yet shifted their marketing budgets and orientation to the online world. The share of overall ad spending devoted to the online channel is expected to rise from an estimated 13 percent in 2011 to 17 percent in 2015—far less than the 64 percent of media time that users now devote to the Internet.
A copy of the report can be downloaded at www.bcgperspectives.com.
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