What You Need to Know About the Chinese Consumer: Mobile Habits

August 29, 2014

Marketplaces ChannelAdvisor By ChannelAdvisor

Let’s face it — smartphones and other mobile technology have drastically reshaped the way we do, well, most things. This holds true not only in the US, but for most industrialized countries. In fact, the number of mobile users in China alone has shot up 98% over the past four years. According to Forrester, more than 400 million Chinese consumers now own smartphones, which they use for a variety of online activities, including browsing, researching and purchasing products.

Mobile adoption is on the rise globally, but the relationship Chinese consumers have with their smartphones may surprise you.

One-Screen Phenomenon

Smartphones act as a third arm for most Americans. Almost three quarters of Americans admit to never leaving home without their mobile phones. It’s a rare occurrence to walk through US streets and not see someone looking down at a screen, talking on the phone or listening to music. As the Interactive Advertising Bureau notes, in the US, the phone is an extension of the person, but in China, the phone is an extension into the world.

When was the last time you watched TV and didn’t check your email, text a friend or surf the web at the same time? US smartphone users are more likely to consume media with other devices in hand.

This multiscreen culture doesn’t exist in China. The smartphone is the primary device people use to obtain information — essentially a window into the outside world. Chinese smartphone users report watching less television and viewing less print media because their phones serve as a replacement for those channels.

Shopping Patterns

Any business professional knows that long hours on the clock mean less time to get personal tasks done. In China, these employees are using mobile technology to shift shopping hours. Because brick-and-mortar stores often aren’t open at the end of the work day, professionals are forced to buy more online. Even some Chinese malls have picked up on the consumer trend, extending store hours until 11 p.m.

Though the QR code hype has died down in the US, QR codes are commonly used in China. Because of the high number of fake products in the Chinese market, consumers there are especially wary of counterfeits. QR codes containing products’ origins provide Chinese retailers with an easy opportunity to establish consumer trust and transparency.

Bottom Line

Mobile usage is escalating worldwide, but a culture can affect the way these devices are incorporated into a consumer’s lifestyle. In China, for example, smartphones are connecting a whole new demographic of rural consumers. E-commerce growth in Chinese counties and villages is 13.6% higher than that in cities. Areas without a lot of brick-and-mortar stores now have a variety of retail options in the palm of their hands.

As a retailer, it’s important to have a broad knowledge of your customer base. Taking time to understand consumer adoption habits on a national scale will help fine-tune marketing strategies.


Blog post by Jordan Nowlin, social media and blog manager, ChannelAdvisor


Eager to learn more about China’s shopping patterns? Check out our free eBook Understanding the Chinese Consumer.