Mobile Online Shopping Gains Steam in China

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Mobile online shopping is growing in China following a surge in sales of smartphones and the growing use of third-generation (3G) mobile networks necessary to access such services.

China has been seen as a potential leader in mobile online shopping. The country has 859 million mobile phone users, according to official numbers, and possesses a booming e-commerce market.

Last year, the country started to see more consumers using their phones to shop online. Mobile e-commerce in China made up 6.4 percent of mobile internet revenue in 2010, a jump from the 0.3 percent it occupied the year before, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.

China's largest online retailer,, has been one of the main drivers behind the growth through its mobile apps, said Chen Shousong, an analyst with Analysys. More Chinese consumers are also using the country's 3G mobile networks and buying smartphones, enabling them to shop online using their handsets.

Currently only 47 million users or about 5 percent of China's mobile phone subscriber base has signed up with the faster 3G mobile networks, according to China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. In 2010, about 62 million smartphones were projected to be sold in China.

Still, China lags behind Japan and the U.S., where mobile online shopping has been stronger, said Mark Beccue, a senior analyst at ABI Research. His estimates put Japan's mobile online shopping market at US$15 billion in 2010, and the U.S. at $3.4 billion.

"China's is right around $1.8 billion. But that's going to grow rapidly over the next few years," he said. "My thought is that China will be the largest mobile online shopping country, or close to it, by 2015."

Taobao, a part of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, began launching mobile apps in 2009. At the end of that year, the company also announced it was putting its brand on a mobile phone that came pre-installed with a Taobao mobile app.

Taobao reported earlier this month that mobile shopping on the site "demonstrated strong potential." Mobile shopping on the site reached a single day high of 17 million unique visitors, the company added.

About two-thirds of the site's mobile users are men, while three-quarters were between ages 19 and 28.

The rise in mobile online shopping is part of a growing trend of consumers becoming more comfortable using their phones to make purchases. "Consumer behavior is changing," Beccue said. "Instead of people going to the computer, they are choosing the mobile to do some of these things. I thought it would be inconvenient, but some people are so familiar with using their mobile phones."

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