A staggering 98% of all Internet users in China are now mobile according to government data

CHINA. New government data suggests that the number of Internet users in China has reached 802 million – almost level with the entire populations of the USA and European Union (EU) combined.

The current population calculation for the EU is 512.6 million (source: Eurostat) and for the USA is 328.4 million (source: US Census Bureau). Data analyst Statista estimates that the USA has 300 million Internet users.

The new figures from the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a part of the Ministry of Industry and Education, were released last week. They show that the number of people accessing the Internet using mobiles has reached 788 million in China, or 98.3% of all users, as of June 2018.

This is a steep rise from a decade ago when the share of mobile users accessing the Internet was just 39.6% (see chart below).

Furthermore, in the first half of 2018, new Internet users in China rose by +3.8% to 29.7 million the equivalent of adding the Benelux populations of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg combined.

The percentage of mobile users has jumped from <40% to almost 98% within a decade.

Sharply rising mobile access suggests that brands and travel retailers need more focus on mobile services and content on platforms such as WeChat, Sina Weibo and RenRen, and not just the vehicle of websites, in order to connect with Chinese travelling shoppers. Statista noted that according to a survey on Internet activity, the average daily time spent on non-voice mobile activities by adults in China had reached 98 minutes in 2017.

Jessica’s Secret Founder Mirko Wang is “precisely targeting” Chinese tourists using mobile social media platforms.

Part of the strategy of Mirko Wang, the founder of duty free price comparison app Jessica’s Secret, is to build this business through a separate arm. “Jessica’s Media focuses on social media such as Weibo, WeChat Moments, Baidu SEM, and some media that cover Chinese tourists… to precisely target these users,” he said. “We have been working with several duty free shops for some years.”

Better Internet infrastructure to widen access

China has focused on continuously optimising and upgrading its Internet infrastructure, which CNNIC has described in terms of “poverty alleviation”. The government has pushed for higher Internet speeds and fee reductions as part of a policy to get more people online to give them access to practical information and services – even though it keeps a rigorous level of censorship in place. This strategy appears to have been working well.

In terms of shipments, China has remained the world’s largest smartphone market since 2012. In 2016, smartphone shipments in China reached over 467 million units, accounting for about 31.8% of global volumes. The number of mobile phone users in China is projected to cross the one billion marker next year, according to Statista.

Among all the huge numbers, a final consideration: by June 2017 the Internet penetration rate in China was only 57.7%. This suggests a huge potential market for ‘first in’ brands and duty free retailers who get their mobile marketing strategies right in China – even if they are selling to them in other global locations where they travel.

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