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SHANGHAI — Chinese consumers spend almost no time on the official e-commerce sites of brands, instead seeking product information on social media platforms and spending a disproportionate amount of time on five of the country’s dominant Web sites, according to a study on e-commerce shopping habits released by the Boston Consulting Group.
This story first appeared in the April 28, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The survey found that, in contrast to other nationalities, Chinese tend to spend roughly 0.5 percent of their time online on official brand Web sites and typically trust product information from official sources far less than recommendations from friends, information found on popular social media platforms such as Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, and reviews from consumers posted online. More than 40 percent of the online activities of those surveyed were spent on five sites, including Youku.com, an online video portal; Sina.com, an online news site; QQ, an instant messaging service; Taobao.com, the consumer-to-consumer e-commerce platform owned by Alibaba, and the search engine Baidu.
It is “critical for brands to identify the most relevant parts of those popular sites for reaching shoppers,” said the BCG study, titled “The Chinese Digital Consumer in a Multichannel World.”
Education about products and brands is one of the main online activities. Ninety percent of product-related online activity was conducted for the purpose of education and did not necessarily result in a purchase online, the study said. While the Sina Weibo microblog has become a dominant medium for brands to communicate with consumers, those in the BCG survey said they only paid attention to promotional material on an official brand account rather than product information. Instead, microblog accounts of celebrities, famous bloggers and other key opinion leaders, or KOLs, garnered more attention. Followers “seek to learn information and read the opinions of their favorite celebrities,” the study said, adding that KOLs tend to shy away from direct promotional material for products.
Another key finding of the study is the growing importance of a multichannel effort to reach consumers, who are increasingly using mobile platforms for product information as well as transactions. According to Waldemar Jap, an author of the study and a Hong-Kong-based partner with BCG, the lines between online and offline are becoming increasingly blurred in China. Consumers are constantly connected across multiple platforms, whether it be mobile devices or a personal computer, and are using such platforms to engage with brands offline. Capturing consumers on all levels of their digital engagement will become increasingly crucial, Jap said.
“Brands need to think of the multichannel world as the comprehensive way to reach out to consumers in a holistic way to give consumers a consistent experience as well as education and knowledge about the brand,” he said.
Those surveyed spent an average of 82 minutes online each day via mobile or tablet platforms, BCG said. Over 80 percent had used location-based services or scanned shopping related QR codes.
The study found that 60 to 80 percent of Chinese consumers across a diverse range of product categories had no strong preference for making a purchase either online or offline. Additionally, only 2 percent of those surveyed started their online shopping experience looking for a specific brand or product.
It also found that when shopping for apparel online, most consumers searched and purchased in one session. Yet for cosmetics, consumers conduct price comparisons in the offline and online world, yet only purchase online if the price is cheaper. “Companies in such categories benefit from providing more seamless online-offline integration,” the BCG study said.