FMCG sales through e-commerce channels in China grew almost seven times as fast as the sector overall in 2019 – a trend that the coronavirus outbreak is likely to accelerate in early 2020.

Latest data from Kantar Worldpanel shows that FMCG spend in in urban China increased 5.3% last year, but e-commerce FMCG spending leapt 36.2%.

According to Kantar, more than three quarters (78%) of Chinese urban families made an FMCG purchase online at least once during the course of the year; the average frequency was 14.5 times.

The research firm expects that the current coronavirus outbreak “will further strengthen the position of e-commerce and delivery service, especially in fresh foods, as consumers try to avoid traditional wet markets”.

Footfall at brick-and-mortar stores has fallen precipitously as online shopping has soared to three or four times the usual level as people avoid congregating in public places, but the Nikkei Asian Review noted that online vendors have run into some problems ensuring they have sufficient personnel to meet the increased demand. The extended Lunar New Year holiday hasn’t helped as many drivers have taken time off.

A separate indication of how people are staying at home comes from sales of movie tickets at malls, which research firm EntGroup reports are down 99% this Lunar New Year period on last year.

Meanwhile, a catalogue of international retail and entertainment businesses have closed outlets as consumer traffic falls, including Starbucks, McDonald’s, Disney, Uniqlo and Nike.

Chinese consumers in top tier cities are already accustomed to shopping online for many products and services and Kantar notes that “O2O delivery service has already become an integrated part of the retail offer” for both small and big players, so quality of service will become a differentiator in the future.

How vendors deal with the current crisis may shape consumer views of them in the years ahead but Kantar expects that a few big players –,, Meituan – will dominate and that they will increasingly focus on lower tier cities.

Sourced from Kantar, Nikkei Asian Review, Reuters; additional content by WARC staff