Chinese shoppers lead way in digital commerce

While digital commerce is strong in the world’s two largest economies, Chinese shoppers use smartphones and tablets more than shoppers in the US.

This is shown in a new study from IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) and IAB China, Understanding Digital Commerce in the US and China. Conducted by consulting firm Hypothesis Group, the research shows that both China and the US have achieved near-full adoption of digital commerce, with 89 per cent of Chinese digital users aged from 18 years upward and 84 per cent of US digital users in the same age bracket saying they had bought a product or service digitally over the previous 12 months.

When it comes to mobile commerce, China leads the way in several areas:

  • 67 per cent of Chinese digital users had made a mobile purchase over the previous 12 months vs 34 per cent of US digital users.
  • 24 per cent of Chinese mobile shoppers purchase via mobile every day vs 15 per cent of US mobile shoppers.
  • 89 per cent of Chinese mobile shoppers are interested in making a mobile purchase over the next month vs 78 per cent of U.S. mobile shoppers.
  • 59 per cent of all monthly purchases in China are digital compared to 42 per cent in the US. Of those purchases, 48 per cent are made via mobile in China, while mobile commerce accounts for 26 per cent in the US.

Plentiful cross-channel opportunities are available in both markets, says the report, with a similar percentage of Chinese and US digital shoppers using both digital and offline channels when deciding on a purchase (31 per cent in China vs 29 per cent in the US).

Digital research

Chinese shoppers are more likely to research and compare prices digitally while within a physical store, with 38 per cent saying they do so all the time or most of the time, while 23 per cent of US shoppers do the same. They are also more likely to use more than one digital device over the course of the purchase process (67 per cent China vs 43 per cent US).

Americans tend to favour multi-product retailers when buying digitally, with 72 per cent of US digital shoppers buying from one of these outlets compared to 61 per cent of Chinese shoppers. Meanwhile, Chinese digital shoppers are more likely to buy from sites or apps that highlight discounts (63 per cent China vs 37 per cent US) or that let them compare prices from different sites or apps (51 per cent China vs 29 per cent US).

Chinese shoppers are also more likely to make a purchase via a messaging app (29 per cent China vs 16 per cent US), while US shoppers are more likely to buy via auction sites (33 per cent US vs 25 per cent China).

When it comes to making a purchase, American shoppers are much more likely to use a credit or debit card (63 per cent US vs 34 per cent China on computer; 37 per cent US vs 6 per cent China on mobile). In China, payment is much more likely to be through a digital payment service like PayPal or WePay (47 per cent China vs 15 per cent US on computer; 36 per cent China vs 17 per cent US on mobile) or a mobile wallet service like Apple Pay (21 per cent China vs 2 per cent  US).

Security concerns

While these numbers indicate strong adoption of digital shopping, obstacles still remain, says the report. The main concern is security, with only 13 per cent of Chinese digital shoppers and 30 per cent of US digital shoppers feeling completely safe shopping digitally. While American shoppers are mainly concerned about information safety and privacy, Chinese shoppers fear digital fraud and scams.


The top benefits of digital shopping are listed as including convenience, ease of use, price and selection.

“This study confirms that mobile is a crucial and growing part of the eCommerce experience,” says IAB senior VP/GM mobile and video, Anna Bager. “While China has always been a mobile-first culture, as its initial adoption of the internet was driven by mobile devices, we are now seeing tremendous year-over-year upticks in terms of mobile growth in the US. We expect to see that trend extend to US mobile commerce going forward.”

IAB China head Chen Yong, who is also secretary-general of the Interactive Internet Advertising Committee of China (IIACC), says it is vital to note how much commerce happens on small screens.

“Marketers who want to reach Chinese shoppers need to follow their lead by investing in mobile advertising so they can bring their messages to the right people at the right time and right location.”

The IAB comprises more than 650 media and technology companies responsible for selling, delivering and optimising digital advertising or marketing campaigns.

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