HONG KONG: Online has become the dominant engagement and transaction channel for Chinese consumers according to a new report, with mobile and social influencing upwards of half of all retail spending.

A study from consulting firm PwC, Delivering on O2O: How Chinese retailers can respond to the blurring of online and offline, drew on a survey of more than 19,000 consumers across 19 countries. It found that 85% of Chinese consumers chose a digital channel as the first step in researching a new product.

And 58% said that where they did make a purchase, research was done online compared to just 47% globally.

Showrooming is also far more common in China than the rest of the world. PwC found that 86% of Chinese consumers had intentionally browsed products in store before buying them online, compared to 68% globally, with price the key driver.

The flip side of this practice, webrooming, was more widely practised elsewhere: 70% of global consumers had intentionally browsed products online before buying them in store, compared to 64% of Chinese consumers.

The research also showed that 60% of Chinese consumers shop in-store because they get to touch, feel and try the merchandise. PwC noted that the experiential strength of the physical channel cannot be matched in a purely online environment, but added that "this is not an either/or equation".

Mobile, it said, offered the opportunity to enhance rather than replace the physical environment and Chinese consumers were very keen to engage with in-store digital technologies.

Thus, for example, 40% indicated that real-time personalised offers would make their in-store shopping experience better, a sentiment shared by 27% of global consumers. 

PwC reported that early adopters of a Baidu Connect service designed to allow brands to attract potential customers via promotions displayed on their smartphone had seen success.

"With the lines between digital and physical becoming irrelevant to consumers, retailers need to offer brand-defining engagement, such as real-time personalised offers in order to create differentiated services that entice customers to come back," said Michael Cheng, PwC Asia Pacific and Hong Kong/China retail and consumer leader.

Data sourced from PwC, Marketing Interactive; additional content by Warc staff