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Chinese drinkers turn to web

It may be a long time before the bulk of China’s population embraces the idea of buying alcohol online, but sales of beer, wine and spirits over the Internet in the country are steadily clicking upward.

As consumers become more comfortable with broadening e-commerce, more and more are saving themselves the trip to the store by purchasing their liquor online – something that’s only been an option since 2007, says researcher Nielsen.

Most consumers in China, which boasts a very strong market for alcohol, still prefer to shop for alcoholic beverages at physical stores like specialty liquor counters in department stores, supermarkets and hypermarkets.

The convenience of shopping on the Internet, combined with the discounts that online retailers often tout, however, is resonating with a select and growing group of online liquor consumers, according to a recent Nielsen survey.

Online alcohol sales in China pale in comparison to the country’s industrial capacity of approximately 400 trillion yuan, but 77 per cent of respondents in Nielsen’s recent survey indicated that they are willing to purchase more via online channels, highlighting a significant opportunity for retailers.

Comparatively, 56 per cent of respondents said they’d be willing to purchase more via traditional channels.

Nielsen found out that more than 90 per cent of consumers who purchase imported spirits are willing to purchase more online, compared with 77 per cent for both Baijiu, a popular distilled liquor, and wine, and 55 per cent for beer.

The survey also found that most Internet users consume some form of alcohol. Beer has the highest penetration rate at 71 per cent, followed by wine and Baijiu, both at more than 55 per cent, and imported spirits at 28 per cent.

“The high concentration of younger alcohol consumers that shop online, along with the rapidly increasing number of e-commerce users in China, show that online channels will become more important for Chinese liquor consumers in the future, especially in key cities and the developed cities in the north and east,” said Catherine Xu, senior director of Nielsen Greater China.

The survey found that close to 80 per cent of 1200 respondents surf online at least once every day and 86 per cent purchase items online. Respondents said e-commerce channels offer three main benefits over traditional shopping venues: big discounts, home delivery and a rich diversity of products.

While general e-commerce websites and specialty online liquor stores are the most preferred online channels for all alcohol products among consumers, Nielsen’s survey indicates that the trend will shift in the near term. Respondents say they may begin favoring websites operated by manufacturers for their wine and Baijiu purchases in the next couple of years, while specialty online stores will remain the most preferred avenue for purchasing imported spirits and beer.

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