BEIJING: China's rural consumers are more adventurous online shoppers than their urban counterparts, and when that trait is combined with improved digital connectivity and better distribution networks there appears to be significant untapped demand for e-commerce.
According to a report cited by Xinhua, 49% of rural consumers are willing to buy types of items online they have never bought before, compared to a national average of 36%; they are also less influenced by negative online reviews.
Ministry of Commerce figures indicate that China's rural online market almost doubled to 353 billion yuan (US$51bn) in 2015, with half of transactions coming from coastal regions such as Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shandong and Guangdong; only 1% came from far-flung provincial regions such as Qinghai, Tibet and Gansu.
But as internet penetration spreads – it is only at around 30% in rural areas – and as the country's e-commerce giants find new ways to make online shopping easier and product delivery faster, consumers in even the most distant parts of the country are expected to join the digital economy.
"China's rural areas will generate huge potential in consumption in the future," said Li Yongjian, an online economy expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The major e-commerce players already operate more than 250,000 online service centres in 1,000 counties across the country.
Alibaba is aiming to set up 100,000 Taobao "villages" – clusters or rural retailers with an online presence on the platform – while rival JD.com boasts some 300,000 village promoters who help people learn to shop online.
The appetite is certainly there: JD.com reported that rural consumers had bought 70% of the large freezers it sold on Singles Day this year, and 50% of widescreen televisions and drum washers.
They are also prepared to pay a premium for global brands. Alibaba reported that Nike had been the best-selling international brand in the sports category on Singles Day, and Apple in mobile phones.
Data sourced from Xinhua, Mashable; additional content by Warc staff