China set for digital boom

13 April 2012

BEIJING: Consumers in China are beginning to engage in an increasingly wide range of digital activities, promising rapid growth for the online advertising and ecommerce sectors.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, the country housed 513m web users in 2011, versus 245m in the US. These totals are pegged to hit 701m and 269m respectively by the end of 2015.

"Increasingly, the internet is becoming a staple in the everyday life of Chinese consumers across a wide spectrum of lifestyles and incomes," the study said. "China may still be classified as an emerging market, but on the internet it has arrived."

The Chinese web audience spent 1.9bn hours a day online in 2011, marking a lift from 2.8 hours to 3.6 hours daily per person in 2008, during which time TV viewing fell from 1.7 hours to 1.4 hours.

Among the most widespread habits were using search engines on 80%, listening to music and instant messaging on 79%, reading news on 75%, blogging on 66% and watching video on 62%.

Elsewhere, 47% of the connected community visit social networks like Renren and 40% have joined weibo, or microblogs, such as those run by Sina or Tencent.

In terms of usage time, web users dedicate 3.3 hours to streaming video a week, the top score here, with three hours spent instant messaging and 2.1 hours both gaming and reading news.

More broadly, exactly half of BCG's survey panel of 2,000 adults regarded the internet as their most trusted source of information, beating TV on 30% and newspapers on 15%.

Last year, 69% of the online population logged on via a mobile phone, up from 39% in 2008. Some 71% of this group send instant messages, 63% read news and 60% access search engines.

Given these favourable trends, BCG predicted Chinese ecommerce sales would reach $364bn by 2015, having generated $119bn in 2011.

The amount of netizens making purchases on the web is also anticipated to rise from 36% to 47% by 2015, with the channel's share of the retail market standing at 8% by this date.

When discussing advertising, the analysis placed total revenues at $29bn last year and stated that online held a 13% share. In 2015, the category will be worth $55bn, with the net on 17%.

Data sourced from Boston Consulting Group; additional content by Warc staff