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Mobile Internet use in China has been changing rapidly over the last few years. There have been a number of reports during 2013 which have commented on this fact. I’m going to dissect this information and look at the changing face of mobile Internet usage in China and what the implications are for the future.

When I first moved to China in 2011 I was surprised how popular smartphones were. Everywhere I went people were staring into their phone on the bus, train or while travelling on the back of an e-bike. I was surprised because I, like most people before they come here, had no idea what sort of country China was.

Even to this day I see couples (not only Chinese) both on their phones while on a date or whole groups of people using their phones while out having dinner. Sometimes I wonder if people are sending each other messages while sitting opposite each other!

My point is that smartphones have become so ingrained in our life that no matter what country you go to mobile Internet usage has increased. But in China this seems to have happened very quickly, mirroring the country’s recent economic growth. The number of mobile Internet users has increased by 88 per cent between 2007 and 2012 according to a January 2013 report by CNNIC.

Mobile Internet usage

In 2010 65.9 per cent of total Internet users in China used a mobile phone to access the Internet. By 2013 this increased to 78.5 per cent according to go-globe.cn.

It’s clear that Chinese Internet users have moved en masse to using their smartphones to access the Internet. The advent of 4G Lte is only going to help further that demand with the promise of the service being ‘more than faster’.

Just how often do Chinese mobile users surf on the Internet?

Mobile Internet usage frequency
image courtesy of go-globe.cn

As my observations suggest most Chinese smartphone users go on the Internet many times a day. According to eMarketer.com’s 2013 report: China Mobile Advertising, nearly one-quarter of smartphone owners said they spent more than 4 hours on mobile Internet daily.

People use their phone while travelling on the metro, while walking from the office to lunch, while eating lunch and then while at the gym after work. I’ve seen this many times and some might say I’ve ‘gone native’ myself as I sometimes do exactly these things.
So what do people use mobile Internet for?

Top activities by mobile Internet users
image courtesy of go-globe.cn

As you would expect most people use mobile Internet for instant messaging using platforms such as Weibo, WeChat and QQ. I regularly see people playing online games on the metro so it’s no surprise to see roughly a third of people using their smartphone to play games online.

Mobile shopping

Lower down the list is online shopping and online payment which, as has been reported, is on the rise.

Online shoppers activities
image courtesy of go-globe.cn

As the eMarketer.com report makes clear China is leading the world in terms of m-commerce engagement. 55 per cent of mobile Internet users made a purchase via their mobile phone during the last three months of 2012 compared to 37 per cent in South Korea, 22 per cent in Japan and only 19 per cent in America.

This engagement partly stems from the fact that the lines between social messaging, marketing and e-commerce are being blurred by platforms such as WeChat and Weibo.

54 per cent of people favoured using e-commerce apps to shop on their phone compared to 29 per cent of people who used search engines. The quote below from mobile ad agency Fugumobile CEO Ranjit Singh is very insightful:

“Say, for example, you have a brand that has a QR scanner in a store, and I scan a Weixin (WeChat) code and follow that brand. The brand can immediately send an ecoupon that can be redeemed on the spot. So it’s a mixture of a broadcast tool and a very strong one-to-one CRM kind of tool—and all on mobile.”

E-commerce and m-commerce

Chinese mobile Internet users are much more likely to engage in a variety of m-commerce activities than smartphone users in other countries. Mobile shopping, mobile banking and mobile wallets mixed with huge participation on various social platforms shows me that China is without a doubt the leader in m-commerce involvement.

All this adds to information we learnt from the recent singles day sales. It has hardened the battle lines between Alibaba and Tencent with both companies wanting to integrate their respective banking apps into their social media platforms.

Tencent want their Tenpay service integrated into WeChat and Alibaba want Alipay integrated into their Weibo-Taobao platform so users of Weibo can buy products directly from the service. It all makes for an exciting fully integrated, social, shopping experience.

Do you use your smartphone more than four hours a day to access the Internet? Do you even shop on your smartphone? Please leave a comment so that I can compare habits from around the world.


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