China becomes world’s largest online retail market for 8 consecutive years

The online retail sales of physical goods in China reached 9.8 trillion yuan (about 1.52 trillion dollars) in 2020, making the country the world’s largest online retail market for eight consecutive years, official data showed.

Hosts sell local farm produce on a livestream show in Wangchang village, Wushan Township, Hukou County, Jiujiang, east China’s Jiangxi province, Jan. 23, 2021. (People’s Daily Online/Zhang Yu)

The figure accounted for 24.9 percent of the total retail sales of national social consumer goods, according to the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM).

Last year, e-commerce sales via live-streaming gained popularity, with more than 24 million live-stream marketing activities taking place, partly because most Chinese people stayed at home amid the COVID-19 epidemic.

Riding on the bandwagon, the government of Laobian district, Yingkou city of northeast China’s Liaoning province, took the lead to turn the district into a center for the live-stream industry. “I sold 10,000 kilograms of apples within five minutes! See, the business is so fast,” Fang Xue, a popular live-streamer in Laobian, said proudly.

New business models such as online education, online medical services and community group-buying services also flourished. The year 2020 saw a year-on-year increase of more than 140 percent in online education products, an increase of 73.4 percent from a year ago in online medical consultations, as well as 663,800 new market entities of e-commerce.

Li Mingtao, president of the Institute of China International Electronic Commerce Center under the Ministry of Commerce, believes that China’s thriving online retail market can be largely attributable to its fast distribution speed, wide coverage and a better understanding of consumers’ needs. Another factor is that young consumers, who prefer shopping online, are becoming the major consumer group.

The development of new infrastructure construction, tangible benefits brought by relevant policies, and better laws and regulations also contribute to the growth of the industry.

The growing e-commerce is also helpful in promoting sales of agricultural products, contributing to the country’s fight against poverty.

Huang Aijian, a man with disabilities in Huangcun village, Hanzhuang town, Wuyi county in north China’s Hebei province, runs a woodware business on China’s e-commerce giant Taobao. Garnering a turnover of over 200,000 yuan, he received over 1,500 clients last year. Today, Huang has not only expanded his service, but he has also helped more poor people overcome poverty.

Apart from driving the market within the country, e-commerce has become beneficial to foreign trade amid the epidemic. Imports and exports of China’s cross-border e-commerce totaled 1.69 trillion yuan in 2020, up by 31.1 percent year-on-year.

The Alashankou Port in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region launched cross-border e-commerce on Jan. 21, 2020. More than 40 million cross-border e-commerce export packages were handled at the port throughout the year, which comes to an average of over 110,000 per day.

New models of foreign trade, such as cross-border e-commerce, have encouraged foreign trade companies to extend their tentacles into more international markets, playing an active role in upgrading foreign trade, said Zhuang Rui, a researcher with the Academy of China Open Economy Studies under the University of International Business and Economics. 

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