China's online shopping to surge, Internet population to double US and Japan combined by 2015

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, a report predicts.
Written by Cyrus Lee, Contributor

Chinese Internet domination is now seen from  online shopping – at least in terms of the surge in number of active participants.

A report by the Boston Consulting Group released on April 11 estimates that Chinese internet users will exceed 700 million by 2015, which will be nearly double the number of Internet users in U.S and Japan combined.

The U.S. and Japan are estimated to have a combined number of 360 million internet users by 2015. However, the combined population of  U.S.  and Japan by now is just around 440 million, less than 40 percent of China’s 1.3 billion, according to government figures.

“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,” the report forecasts, adding that the huge online market is not an easy one given Chinese own patterns of online consumption and behavior that distinguished from those of consumers in the West.

China currently has 193 million online shoppers, which outstrips the 170 million in the US, more than double the number in Japan, and five times that of the UK, according to another BCG report released the same day.

The Internet today in China is similar to television in the 1960s and 1970s in the West - the place where consumers congregate and companies need to locate, the report noted.

BCG also finds that Chinese Internet users spend at least 1.6 hours a week shopping online, with university students, young professionals and young seekers devoting at least two hours a week. Moreover, 12 percent of total consumption comes from Internet shopping among university students and young professionals, according to the research.

According to a study by China’s largest e-commerce company Alibaba, Chinese consumers spent a total of RMB785 billion (US $125 billion) online last year, which is 66 percent more than in 2011. It is a sharp contrast with the 11.7 percent growth in total retail sales for the same period.

Citing huge room for further growth, Alibaba also expects online shopping in China to comprise 7 percent of total retail sales in 2015, increasing from 3 percent at the moment.

In late March, PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a survey that Chinese consumers are four times more likely to shop online compared to European shoppers and nearly twice as often as online shoppers in the US and the UK.

Around 70 percent of the survey respondents in China shop online at least once a week, compared with around 40 percent in the US and UK, and around 20 percent for the Netherlands, France and Switzerland. PwC claimed it commissioned 7,005 online surveys during August and September 2011 to draw the conclusion.

At the same time, PwC said 69 percent of the respondents consider themselves to be either “confident” or “experts” in regard of shopping experience, and in China, the proportion of these “expert” shoppers is highest, which reached 86 percent.

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