BEIJING: Consumer confidence in China remained steady during the first quarter but a regional breakdown shows confidence growing in the less-developed western part of the country while falling in the east.

The latest consumer confidence survey from data provider Nielsen was based on a representative sample of online consumers and revealed that the overall index was unchanged from the previous quarter, at 111, but up three points on a year ago. This compared with a global average of 96 during the first three months of the year.

Confidence was higher in eastern China, but it declined there while increasing in the west. At the same time the gap between large and small cities was also narrowing.

"From a city-tier perspective, the news is lower tier cities [are] catching up with Tier 1 cities in consumer optimism," said Yan Xuan, President of Nielsen Greater China.

In general, he felt that "Chinese consumer fundamentals remain strong", despite the economic slowdown.

"Apart from the robust consumer confidence, the healthy growth of disposable income for both rural and urban residents, both on annual or quarterly basis, made it possible for a continuous growth of overall retail sales in China," Yan added.

A new report from China's Development & Research Center, in conjunction with consultancy Deloitte, highlighted the rapid growth of online retail sales, which have overtaken those in the US to become the world's highest at 1.8 trillion yuan (US$294 billion) in 2013.

The frequency of online transactions and the wealth of those shopping online are also increasing with the result that bricks-and-mortar retailers have suffered.

One of these, footwear chain Belle International, which distributes western sports brands such as Nike and Adidas through its 20,000 outlets, has seen revenue growth slow sharply and said that "consumer confidence has been low and consumer sentiment weak", the Financial Times reported. "A 'new normal' state of lower growth is here to stay," it added.

Data sourced from Nasdaq, China Daily, Want China Times, Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff