China is whipping the pants off the US in the e-commerce space

china singles' day mobile
Image credit: Keitma /

Comparing China’s Singles’ Day against Brown Thursday, Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US reveals just how much more advanced the development of the mobile online consumer economy is in China.

The first figures for Brown Thursday and Black Friday are coming in, with Adobe estimating that $7.9 billion (Gross Merchandise Value [GMV]) was spent online with another $6.6 billion expected to come on Cyber Monday. Of that $7.9 billion, 37% of the revenue was produced by a mobile device, of which 70% was transacted via a smartphone (26% total turnover).

While these figures are the best ever for the US in terms of total turnover and smartphone share, they pale into insignificance when compared to Singles’ Day in China.

Between them, Alibaba and make up 87.2% of all B2C e-commerce in China, and on Singles’ Day they racked up $44.7 billion in GMV. In just one day, Chinese e-commerce turned over 5.7x in GMV than the two US days put together. If one includes the expectations for Cyber Monday, then the total US holiday shopping period is dwarfed by a factor of 3 to 1.

Furthermore, 90% of all of Alibaba’s GMV was transacted on a mobile device, and AliPay handled a total of 1.5 billion transactions.

Obviously, a big discrepancy here is that Singles’ Day is a recently created, online-only event whereas Black Friday has been going since 1952 and remains mostly an offline event that is slowly migrating to online. However, the scale of the difference between the two clearly demonstrates that when it comes to online transactions and mobile, China is far more developed than the US or other developed markets.

I have long believed that there are two main reasons for this:

  1. The offline experience in China is very poor. This is the case for many sectors but particularly in retail. Chinese offline retail is a fragmented and frustrating experience where decent service and information with regards to inventory, product lines and so on is routinely not available. When an online offering appears where this information is clear and one is able to easily purchase goods and know when they will be delivered, shoppers quickly adapt. Hence, Chinese consumers have very quickly adapted to online shopping as the experience and ease of use is far superior to offline.
  2. China is a mobile-first market. Cellular connectivity in China has better penetration of broadband connections, higher throughput and lower latency than fixed Internet. Consequently, mobile is the first choice for Chinese users as it almost always offers a better user experience.

This is also why we have begun to see a reversal of the direction of innovation in mobile services. Historically, Chinese companies have copied ideas pioneered in developed markets, but this has changed meaningfully.

For example, many of the innovations that are being put into instant messaging platforms by Facebook, Snapchat, Apple and so on are already available in WeChat, Line, Kakao-Talk etc. This is a trend I expect to continue going forward.

China remains dominated by the BATmen of whom I have preferred Tencent for the last 15 months. However, given its rally and its apparent slowness to monetize its ecosystem fully, I am beginning to think about switching into Alibaba.

This article was originally published on RadioFreeMobile

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