BEIJING: The internet is impacting on purchase decisions in China, with consumers becoming increasingly savvy in their use of the medium.
According to a study by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, there are some 420 million netizens in China, including many who use the web to research consumer goods and services before buying.
"Proportionally, Chinese consumers rely on the internet in making purchase decisions much more than their counterparts in the West," Charles Edouard Bouée, Roland Berger's Asia President, said.
Similarly, the company's report suggested that electronic word of mouth can totally reshape perceptions of products and companies.
For example, around 13 million comments are added to bulletin boards dedicated to the automotive sector alone each month.
In a further indicator of this trend, 60% of people with web access in China agreed that forums, blogs and amateur review sites have an impact on what they choose to buy, compared with just 20% in the US.
This development will only gain ground as the number of available services increases and engagement with existing platforms like Kaixin and Youku improves.
Another characteristic of the Chinese market is that the role of new media is beginning to extend beyond simply informing popular opinions and habits.
One result has been that a significant minority of customers are now organising themselves into formal groups, either to secure discounts by ordering goods in bulk, or even to coordinate online and offline protests.
Digital literacy is noticeably rising in Tier 1 cities like Shanghai and Beijing, and also in smaller cities where individuals have proved just as keen to adopt new technology.
This is partly because consumers are "displaying more individualism than before, striving not only to be fashionable but to be able to express their individual style and personality through the products they use."
Given this, the report said it is essential for corporations to ensure that their presence on the net meets various requirements.
These include offering good prices to strong after-sales customer service.
"The internet aspect in China represents both an opportunity and a challenge," Alain Lecouedic, a partner at Roland Berger Consultants, said.
"Companies need to raise the bar of their products and anticipate their strategy. If things go wrong, it can quickly damage a brand."
Data sourced from The Independent; additional content by Warc staff