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Chinese Consumer Behaviour's Uniqueness in the Online World

August 23, 2016 |   Nicolas Chu

Social, cultural and economic differences between China and the West mean that online user behaviour patterns often differ significantly. Things such as use of email, the e-commerce habits and an emphasis on trust and reputation are a result of these differences.

Understanding the differences in Chinese consumer behaviour and developing an understanding of China’s online ecosystem are vital for effectively marketing in China and engaging with Chinese consumers.

Some key trends in Chinese online user behaviour: 

1. Internet usage 
2. E-commerce usage 
3. Chinese consumer behaviour 
4. Email usage 
5. Price expectation 

Internet usage

When it comes to accessing the Internet, the mobile phone dominates. Nine in 10 of China’s 688 million internet users access the Internet through their mobile phones. In fact, 19% (127 million) of internet users access the Internet only through their mobile phones.

When it comes to accessing the Internet, the mobile phone dominates.


E-commerce usage

E-commerce is dramatically changing the patterns and rhythms of commerce in China. It frees consumers from the restraints of time and location. Chinese online shoppers are no longer restricted to retail hours, with around one third of Taobao’s online sales occurring before 10.00am and after 8.00pm. However, when it comes to researching online, people tend to be more active during work hours. Sogou search data shows Chinese tourists prefer to research travel information predominantly between 10am and 6pm, 3pm being the peak time.

A Chinese consumer will make 10 to 12 visits to online and offline touch points before buying an expensive item.


Chinese consumer behaviour

Moreover, the importance of reputation and trust is a key feature of Chinese consumerism. Research by McKinsey showed that shoppers rank their friends’ recommendations, both online and offline, as the most important factor in their online buying choices. This is backed up by Sogou data which shows the top focus of Chinese travellers in researching Australia as a destination is word-of-mouth recommendations and reputation. Chinese consumers also like to have as much information as possible before making a purchase.

A 2011 survey by McKinsey showed that “on average a Chinese consumer will make 10 to 12 visits to online and offline touch points — including search engines, product sites, and physical stores—before buying an expensive item such as consumer electronics.”

Email usage

A key difference in the way Chinese access information and communicate online is that email is not widely used; There were 258 million email users in China by the end of 2015, only 38% of the total internet population of China. There is a markedly low adoption of email usage in China, as compared to instant messaging services such as WeChat, which at the end of 2015 had 697 million monthly active users.

Email is not widely used in China.


Price expectation

Online shoppers in China also have different expectations when it comes to pricing. Unlike Australian consumers, who are conditioned to expect discounts primarily during sales, Chinese online shoppers expect competitive prices all year round, punctuated with one or two megasales a year.

In fact, Singles Day Sales (also called Double Eleven) held on November 11 2015 reaped total sales worth A$18.5 billion (¥91.2 billion).

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