Consumers in rural china.

Growth in online shopping by China’s rural residents has outstripped that of the country’s urban population in the second quarter of this year, according to official data from the Ministry of Commerce.

Almost half of China’s 1.3 billion residents live in the country’s sparsely populated rural areas.

In the second quarter, rural online retail sales increased 13.5 percent when compared to the first quarter. The rural growth figure came in at 4 percentage points higher than the online retail sales growth rate seen among urban consumers, according to official data.

During the first half of the year, purchases by rural consumers equaled 14.14 percent of total online sales in the country.

In the first six months of this year, online retail sales to rural consumers surpassed 310 billion yuan, or $46.74 billion at current exchange, according to local media reports.

Data showed that rural residents spent most of their money on clothing, shoes, home improvement and digital gadgets.

Chinese online retailers have been actively targeting previously untapped rural consumers as a way to increase sales growth, as the country transitions away from a manufacturing-led economy and attempts to boost domestic consumption. Investments have also been made in infrastructure projects to reach the most remote consumers.

E-commerce giant Alibaba has said rural areas are part of its strategy for future growth.