BEIJING: Apple has launched its first official online store in China as the US firm continues its expansion into fast-growth markets.

Customers looking to purchase a wide range of Apple products, including the iPhone4 and the iPad, will be offered free-shipping across the board.

The personalised engraving and configure-to-order options already standard in the US and Europe will be available.

Online payments will be accepted from twenty two Chinese banks and also from Allpay, the most popular third-party payment tool in the region.

Apple have targeted China for its enormous growth potential and recently opened two new retail stores to coincide with the launch of the iPhone 4 earlier this year.

Tim Cook, Apple coo, said: "We are thrilled to open our newest online store in China."

Hover Xiao, senior analyst from the market research firm IDC commented: "The opening of Apple's Chinese online store will have a very positive effect on its sales performance in the domestic market, especially for their expansion in to the second-tier and third-tier markets."

China is already home to four Apple stores, but the company plan to expand rapidly, with twenty five stores scheduled to open across the region by December 2011.

Moreover, one of the key objectives in providing access to Apple products via the new online store will be to undermine a burgeoning gray market.

The launch of the iPhone 4 in China last month resulted in "scalpers" being hired to queue to buy products, which were then sold on at premiums of up to an additional 600 yuan ($90, £56) per device.

Illegal activity of this kind became so rife that Apple's Beijing store in Sanlitun had to be temporarily closed on September 29th.

Apple responded by accepting orders for the iPhone 4 from online purchasers only, and sales of the device in retail outlets in Beijing and Shanghai have been entirely suspended.

Xiao believes this action should help regulate product distribution.

Data sourced from China Daily/Shanghai Morning Post; additional content by Warc staff