And off to the online shops we go

Buildings Brics: Digital shopping is booming in China. Nearly 200 million people are buying online.

Online retailing is on the march in China with citizens in remote areas taking the opportunity to buy previously hard-to-get products, and one of the main beneficiaries is the e-commerce giant Alibaba. Lang Lang / Reuters
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Xiaofei used to head to the Zhongguancun electronics village in Beijing to buy computer products, but these days she sits in Haidian on her university campus and uses her laptop to purchase hardware and software.

"I hated queuing, and dealing with traffic. And then I hated the way the salespeople would hassle you.

"This way is much more convenient, and they bring it to your house, so no need to carry."

About 194 million Chinese, or more than a third of the country's online population, use the internet for shopping, according to data from the China Internet Network Information Center, up 21 per cent on the previous year.

It is not just computers. Xiaofei also uses online shopping sites such as and Taobao, the Chinese version of eBay, to buy clothes, books, food, medicine, car parts and make-up, among many other things.

"It's all there.

"Even my favourite designers," she says.

The number of internet users in China continues to expand rapidly, surging past 500 million as more and more Web surfers use their mobile phones and tablet computers to buy online.

It is hardly surprising that given the rent increases in Shanghai and Beijing internet malls are on the up and up.

The government also plans to establish regulations for third-party transaction platforms, including internet malls, to facilitate the industry's growth, the commerce ministry said in October.

Online retailing has become huge all over the world, but in China it has also provided a means for people living in the smaller cities to enjoy the same shopping choices as their compatriots in Shanghai and Beijing.

And the numbers of website consumers who get together to buy in bulk to obtain a discount rose 245 per cent to 65 million last year. In tandem with the boom in online retailing, internet payment, e-banking, online tour reservation and mobile-phone payment have all risen strongly.

The government has implemented rigorous controls on internet content, known colloquially as the Great Firewall of China, which keep a tight rein on politically suspect material.

However, the government has no qualms about commercial freedoms online and this shows in the booming world of Chinese e-commerce.

The Boston Consulting Group believes China's internet retailing market may overtake the US as the world's largest with transactions estimated to reach more than 2 trillion yuan (Dh1.16tn) in 2015.

While China's consumer banking system remains heavily regulated and cumbersome, the number of e-bank users rose 19 per cent last year.

The number of people accessing the internet through mobile phones reached 356 million last year, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of all "webizens" in China.

The big guns are stepping up, and the biggest beneficiary in China is the e-commerce giant Alibaba, which dominates the business-to-business market with its site.

It is also investing heavily in its website, which allows businesses to sell products directly to customers.

Last year, 100 billion yuan worth of goods were sold through, more than three times what was sold in 2010.

The site was spun out of Taobao last year to allow it to focus more directly on business-to-customer transactions, and had about half the market last year. It is one of the 10 most-visited websites in China.

Alibaba is expanding rapidly, although it angered many of its business customers last year when it increased its service fees tenfold.

It has since promised to invest 1.8 billion yuan to help small and medium-size merchants to expand. The online retailer Jingdong Mall, also known as, is the largest and fastest-growing business-to-customer operation, becoming the first online retailer in China to exceed 10 billion yuan in annual sales, winning a large part of the market share by offering free delivery.

It sells consumer electronics, computers and, now, books. Jingdong has 25 million registered users and 6,000 suppliers nationwide.

Jingdong is going online in the e-book market, starting out with 80,000 e-books, rising to 300,000 by the end of the year.

It is the latest Chinese retailer to get in on the e-books market - was launched last month.

"Our customers are used to e-commerce, and many registered book buyers purchase books and videos at least twice a month," said Shi Tao, the vice president of Jingdong Mall.

Like many areas in China, copyright issues have held back the performance of online retail.

The e-book industry has been hampered by a lack of transparency when it comes to resolving digital questions of intellectual property rights.

Jingdong will act as an agent and share profits with publishers, and has signed a deal with more than 200 publishing houses, including the powerful People's Literature Publishing House, in what Mr Shi calls a "win-win" situation.