Cooling of Chinese e-commerce sector continues as slowdown takes hold

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China’s online retail sales increased 17.8% year on year to RMB 4.8 trillion ($684 billion) in the first half of this year, according to official data.

Why it matters: The annual growth rate of China’s e-retail market has stabilized at around 20% after falling from consistent figures above 30%. The slowing expansion comes as a broader economic slowdown takes a grip, and the US trade war intensifies.

  • China’s online retail sales increased 17.8% year on year in the first four months of 2019, down from a 32.4% jump for the same period last year, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

“As Chinese economic growth shifts from high-speed to high-quality, and the growth dividends of Chinese internet users fade away, the gradual slowdown in online retail spending fits into the pattern of economic development.”

—Gao Feng, China Ministry of Commerce Spokesperson

Details: Of the total, online retail sales of physical goods came to RMB 3.82 trillion for the first six months, up 21.6% from a year ago and accounting for 19.6% of the total retail sales in the country.

  • Business-to-customer (B2C) sales account for a little over three-quarters of total retail sales, up by 4.1 percentage points from last year.
  • Eastern, central, western, and northeastern China represent 83.2%, 9.6%, 5.9% and 1.3% of the country’s total online sales, respectively. The growth rates of each region stood at 17.8%, 35.4%, 13.9%, and 20.6%.
  • Fresh food, cosmetics, and pet goods are the most popular categories for online buyers in big cities, while apparel, automobile accessories, and home appliances are favored in rural markets.
  • Rural e-commerce and cross-border e-commerce continue to be the main drivers of sales.
  • Online retail is moving toward individualization and customization.

Context: China’s online retail market has expanded rapidly for more than a decade. In 2018, China’s online retail spending exceeded RMB 9 trillion, and it has ranked first globally for six consecutive years.