R     China’s Digital     Generations 2.0Digital Media and Commerce Go Mainstream
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global manage-ment consulting firm and the world’s leading advisor onbusiness strate...
China’s Digital     Generations 2.0Digital Media and Commerce Go Mainstream             David C. Michael               Yvo...
© The Boston Consulting Group, Inc. 2010. All rights reserved.For information or permission to reprint, please contact BCG...
ContentsExecutive Summary                                              4China’s Digital Landscape                         ...
Executive SummaryD                igital technology has fundamentally changed       mobile phone to send instant messages ...
to reach almost 40 percent of China’s vast rural popu-     cent of China’s total online population and account  lation.   ...
◊ In 2009, “Happy Farm” platforms caused a nationwide         Any company committed to engaging Chinese con-  sensation, i...
China’s Digital LandscapeC              hina currently has 384 million Internet        most-active digital users of what w...
Exhibit 1. Chinese Internet Users Spend 2.7 Hours a Day Online                                                       Hours...
Not surprisingly, PC ownership is much rarer in rural                               (IM) over e-mail. For instance, 87 per...
low digital consumers to catch important events in real          Free Content. In China, an Internet connection grantstime...
ingly of only children. Again, due to the cultural empha-       means that Chinese Internet users find opportunities tosis ...
China’s Digital Generations                              From Teenagers to Middle-AgersO                ur research focuse...
Exhibit 4: The Six Chinese Internet User Segments Have Distinct Motivations  and Behaviors                                ...
Teenager: Jianhong’s Teen Experience Focuses on Fun, Friends, and Studies                                                 ...
Young Professionals: Feng Uses the Internet for Nearly All of His Needs                                                   ...
Active Middle-Ager: Jun’s Digital Devices Keep Her Connected, Informed, and Amused                                        ...
The Rise of the                               Digital GiantsC              hina’s diverse cast of Internet users demon-   ...
a middle-schooler in the tier 3 city of Guilin. Jianhong tai-       Although Dungeon & Fighter is a shooting game, it also...
have also become enormously popular. For instance,             China’s media spectrum was on hand. And yet many Chi-QQshow...
The E-Commerce RevolutionO                 ne of the biggest trend shis in China is   The purchasing activity of these on...
Exhibit 5. University Students and Young Professionals Are the Most Active in Both Online  Research and E-Commerce        ...
Bcg china digital_generations_2_may_2010
Bcg china digital_generations_2_may_2010
Bcg china digital_generations_2_may_2010
Bcg china digital_generations_2_may_2010
Bcg china digital_generations_2_may_2010
Bcg china digital_generations_2_may_2010
Bcg china digital_generations_2_may_2010
Bcg china digital_generations_2_may_2010
Bcg china digital_generations_2_may_2010
Bcg china digital_generations_2_may_2010
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Bcg china digital_generations_2_may_2010

  1. 1. R China’s Digital Generations 2.0Digital Media and Commerce Go Mainstream
  2. 2. The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global manage-ment consulting firm and the world’s leading advisor onbusiness strategy. We partner with clients in all sectorsand regions to identify their highest-value opportunities,address their most critical challenges, and transform theirbusinesses. Our customized approach combines deep in-sight into the dynamics of companies and markets withclose collaboration at all levels of the client organization.This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable compet-itive advantage, build more capable organizations, andsecure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a privatecompany with 69 offices in 40 countries. For more infor-mation, please visit www.bcg.com.
  3. 3. China’s Digital Generations 2.0Digital Media and Commerce Go Mainstream David C. Michael Yvonne Zhou May 2010 bcg.com
  4. 4. © The Boston Consulting Group, Inc. 2010. All rights reserved.For information or permission to reprint, please contact BCG at:E-mail: bcg-info@bcg.comFax: +1 617 850 3901, attention BCG/PermissionsMail: BCG/Permissions The Boston Consulting Group, Inc. One Beacon Street Boston, MA 02108 USA
  5. 5. ContentsExecutive Summary 4China’s Digital Landscape 7Rural Markets: The Next Wave of Growth 7Entertainment and Communication 9Factors That Shape Today’s Digital Reality 10China’s Digital Generations: From Teenagers to Middle-Agers 12The Rise of the Digital Giants 17Tencent’s QQ 17What Tencent’s Empire Says About User Stickiness 17Riding the Digital Wave: Sina 19The E-Commerce Revolution 20Online Consumer Behavior 20Case Study: Taobao 20Informing Consumer Choice—Both Online and Off 21Chinese E-Commerce’s Business-to-Consumer Push: Ctrip 23The Consumer Connection 25Incorporate Consumer Behavior into Your Business Model 25Integrate the Internet into Your Go-to-Market Strategy 25Leverage the Collective Power of the Digital Network 26Use the Internet to Advertise Your Brand and Build Trust 27Mobile Internet: The 3G Opportunity 28Appendix: Researching China’s Digital Generations 29For Further Reading 30Note to the Reader 31C’ D G . 
  6. 6. Executive SummaryD igital technology has fundamentally changed mobile phone to send instant messages to friends online, and the way Chinese people live—how they read heads to the local Internet café in his spare time. He spends news, shop, travel, play games, watch movies, half of his $40 monthly allowance on digital communication express themselves, and relate to others. As and entertainment. this trend gains momentum, understandingthe online impulses of these digital consumers has become a By and large, the same companies meet both Feng’s andcrucial—and increasingly urgent—prerequisite for engaging Chao’s online needs. The last three years have seen leaders inthem. A comparison of Chinese Internet consumption to that digital-services sectors emerge—and dominate. Chinese com-in other economies, notably Brazil, Russia, India, and Indone- panies like Tencent and Alibaba.com have pulled away fromsia but also the United States and Japan, reveals that Chinese the pack, transforming themselves from microcaps to billion-people use the Internet for entertainment and communication dollar companies in the process. The success stories of China’sto a much greater degree. They are also shiing a large share digital giants add a crucial dimension to the key trends inof their commercial activity online, including shopping, prod- online consumer behavior, including the rise of e-commerce,uct research, ad viewing, and the purchase of value-added ser- social-networking sites, online advertising, and mobile-Inter-vices such as customizing a personal blog. net use.But China’s Internet growth story is increasingly a tale of two Companies that aim to engage Chinese consumers will needmarkets. For example, Feng, 26, lives in Beijing and is typical to understand Feng and Chao—and everyone in between. Byof the generation of young professionals populating China’s delving into the digital lives of a sample of Chinese consum-urban centers. He earns about $9,000 annually, enough to ers, we hope to allow their personalities, habits, needs, andrent his own apartment, and has an impressive digital inven- aspirations tell the story of this dynamic and complex mar-tory: a Western-brand laptop PC, a digital camera, a mobile ket—and encourage companies to serve it.phone, and an MP3 player. Along with his PC at work, thesedevices keep Feng online for nearly every minute of his day. In the last three years, China’s digital generationsThere are already tens of millions of people like Feng in Chi- have undergone a dramatic transformation, with rap-na, and we can expect there to be hundreds of millions more id adoption of digital devices and the Internet acrossin the coming years. different city tiers and in rural areas. Yet there is still significant room for growth as the Internet pene-Still, the next wave of Internet users will come from China’s trates further into China’s less-developed regions.hundreds of millions of rural residents. We are already seeingsophisticated Internet habits from younger rural users—like ◊ China’s Internet user base reached 384 million in 2009,Chao, an 18-year-old only child in his last year of high school more than in the U.S. and Japan combined. That num-in the province that borders Siberia, whose family has an an- ber is expected to be more than 650 million by 2015.nual household income of just $4,000. Chao finds ways to stayconnected, even though his parents are too poor to buy a PC ◊ Internet penetration is forecast to increase from itsand his mobile phone is hardly top-of-the-line. Chao uses his current 29 percent to nearly 50 percent by 2015—and T B C G
  7. 7. to reach almost 40 percent of China’s vast rural popu- cent of China’s total online population and account lation. for more than 80 percent of China’s online hours. Dif- ferent user segments demonstrate different online◊ The market in China for online content and aggrega- behaviors and needs. tion will grow from $14 billion in 2008 to $40 billion in 2012, at which point it will represent 20 percent of ◊ Young professionals, who represent 6 percent of all China’s $200 billion digital market overall (which in- Internet users, have a remarkable 99 percent penetra- cludes online content and aggregation, Internet distri- tion. They also have the heaviest Internet use, averag- bution, and devices). ing 4.0 hours a day online.Not only are more Chinese people using the Internet ◊ Young gamers, who make up 21 percent of all Internetbut they also use the Internet more than do consum- users, average 3.2 hours a day online, mainly on IMers in the major emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, and playing online games.India, and Indonesia—which, together with China,form what we call the BRICI countries. A forthcoming One of the most significant changes in online behav-BCG report will explore Internet trends across all of ior in China since 2007 is the embrace of e-commerce,the BRICI markets. best exemplified by the growth of Taobao, a consum- er-to-consumer site owned by Alibaba Group.◊ Digital devices and the Internet are moving to center stage in the lives of China’s digital consumers, with ◊ Some 8 percent of the Chinese population shopped total time spent online averaging 2.7 hours a day online in 2009, compared with just 3 percent in 2006. in 2009. E-commerce adoption is estimated to jump to 19 per- cent of the Chinese population by 2012.◊ This usage rate is the highest among all the BRICI countries and averages 0.4 hours a day more than the ◊ An additional 8 percent of Chinese Internet users average rate in the United States. conduct product research on e-commerce sites, even though they are still unwilling to actually pur-◊ As a country, China spent more than 1 billion hours chase online—suggesting that besides hosting trans- online per day in 2009—double the daily total in the actions, e-commerce platforms have emerged as im- United States. This number will grow to well over 2 bil- portant clearinghouses for product information and lion hours per day by 2015. prices.Social, historical, and economic factors have shaped ◊ In the past, concerns about a lack of both buyer-sellera unique set of needs and behaviors among Chinese trust and reliable payment mechanisms generateddigital consumers compared with the other BRICI skepticism about China’s e-commerce potential. Theeconomies. current pace of growth shows how outdated these no- tions are becoming.◊ The most prominent themes are that far more Chinese people use the Internet to communicate and seek en- ◊ The value of business-to-consumer and consumer-to- tertainment than in the other BRICI markets. consumer online transactions was $37 billion in 2009 and is projected to surpass $100 billion in 2012.◊ For instance, more than 80 percent of Chinese digital consumers use instant messaging (IM), read news on- In 2008, social-networking sites boomed in China line, and stream or download music via the Internet. among university students and young professionals, Three-quarters stream video content, and more than and by 2009 Chinese Internet users of all backgrounds 50 percent use search engines and play games online. and age groups were active in their use.The majority of China’s digital consumption comes ◊ The total number of Chinese users of social-network-from those aged 35 and under, who make up 73 per- ing sites reached 130 million in 2009.C’ D G . 
  8. 8. ◊ In 2009, “Happy Farm” platforms caused a nationwide Any company committed to engaging Chinese con- sensation, introducing social-networking sites to digital sumers will need to grasp the trends and implications consumers outside of the young professional and uni- of the country’s Internet-usage patterns. versity student populations, which had been the pre- dominant users in the past. ◊ Understanding the underlying needs and tastes of the different segments of Chinese digital consumers is vi-As consumption of online news and other portal- tal to craing an effective approach to communicatingbased information continues to climb, so too has with them.the growth potential of China’s online advertisingmarket. ◊ However well established they may currently be, con- sumption trends such as e-commerce, online advertis-◊ Online advertising is taking share from magazines, ing, and social-networking sites are far from realizing newspapers, and TV, and will hit a projected 20 per- their potential. cent of total advertising in 2012, up from 8 percent in 2008. ◊ Many consumer-oriented multinationals in China are operating under outdated assumptions regarding Chi-◊ The online ad market in China is expected to reach nese consumers’ media and shopping behaviors. These $8.6 billion in 2012. companies are at grave risk of losing touch with one of the world’s most important growth markets.The rise of the digital giants—which have trans-formed themselves from startups to multibillion- ◊ It is imperative to act fast, because the shi towarddollar companies—helps explain how monetizing digital media and commerce has already becomeChinese consumer behavior can work. mainstream—and is gaining momentum at a tremen- dous rate.◊ The most successful local companies outperformed multinationals in every category of the Internet indus- About the Authors try in China, driven by a deep understanding of Chi- David C. Michael is a senior partner and managing nese consumers and by innovative approaches to director in the Beijing office of The Boston Consulting meeting their needs. Group and leads the Global Advantage practice; he can be reached by e-mail at michael.david@bcg.com.◊ Important examples are Tencent (with a market capitalization of $38 billion), Baidu ($24 billion), Yvonne Zhou is a principal in the firm’s Beijing office; Alibaba.com ($10 billion), Ctrip.com International she can be reached by e-mail at zhou.yvonne@bcg.com. ($5 billion), and Sina ($2 billion), among others. T B C G
  9. 9. China’s Digital LandscapeC hina currently has 384 million Internet most-active digital users of what we call the BRICI coun- users—more than the United States and tries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Indonesia). As a Japan combined. This number, however, country, China spent more than 1 billion hours online per represents only 29 percent of the popula- day in 2009—double the amount in the United States. tion, indicating how much room there is for This number will grow to well over 2 billion by 2015.growth. The main pathway to the Internet at present isthrough PC connections—and although only an estimat-ed 20 percent of the population own PCs, many tens of Rural Markets: The Next Wave of Growthmillions more are able to access the Internet at Internetcafés, in workplaces, or through PCs that are shared by a Internet penetration in China is expected to nearly dou-household. Meanwhile, 769 million people, or 57 percent ble by 2015 to more than 650 million users—but this willof the population, own mobile phones, although mobile- still be less than 50 percent of the total population. Muchbroadband Internet use is only now beginning to see of the remaining growth will come from rural China. Thelarge-scale adoption. government has been stepping up its efforts to connect rural areas as a means of stimulating consumption andA look at the activities of China’s many types of digital promoting economic development. Network coverage isconsumers shows the range of conveniences introduced remarkably widespread, although rural broadband pen-by PC ownership and an Internet connection. Shopping etration remains low.for the best bargain, streaming NBA games at any hour,downloading a newly released movie, checking home- Yet despite the uneven reach of broadband in rural China,work with friends—all of these activities have become most of the country’s new Internet users come from ruralmainstream online behaviors as China’s PC-based Inter- areas—many of them young people visiting Internet ca-net platforms and technology have developed. But the fés for the first time. In addition, young Internet users inimplications extend beyond PC ownership alone—digital rural areas are already the most active online segment inconsumers who rely on Internet cafés for a connection those regions. The under-30 population makes up 77 per-also use the platforms made popular by the more casu- cent of rural Internet users, and nearly half of rural Inter-ally active PC owners. And as mobile-broadband Internet net users are under 20 years old. (See Exhibit 2.)develops, early adopters will transfer PC-based Internet-usage habits to their mobile devices. Aside from the Chinese government’s interest in broad- band infrastructure, another major driver of rural InternetFor many Chinese digital consumers, then, Internet use is penetration will be the rise in disposable income. Annualnow a fixture in their daily lives. Chinese Internet users, income in rural areas increased from $407 per capita indefined as those who go online at least once a month, 2005 to $758 in 2009, a 17 percent compound annualspend an average of 2.7 hours a day online, up from 2.4 growth rate (CAGR). And while only 34 percent of the ruralhours a day in 2006—and 0.4 hours a day more than population had disposable income of more than $882 aU.S. users. (See Exhibit 1.) This means that China has the year in 2009, that proportion will be 54 percent by 2015.C’ D G . 
  10. 10. Exhibit 1. Chinese Internet Users Spend 2.7 Hours a Day Online Hours per day spent online per Internet user 4 3.1 3 2.7 2.9 2.4 2.4 2.1 2.3 2 1.7 1.4 1.1 0.9 1 0.7 0.6 0.7 0.9 0.4 0.5 China India Brazil Russia Indonesia United States Japan Total hours spent a day online in 2009 (millions) 1,025 42 63 75 27 507 268 Total hours spent a day online in 2015 (millions) 2,348 168 329 180 103 2006 2009 2015E Sources: China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC); The Nielsen Company; International Telecommunication Union (ITU); comScore, Inc.; BCG analysis. Exhibit 2. Nearly 80 Percent of China’s Rural Internet Users Are Under 30 Years Old Percentage of rural Internet Percentage of Internet users users by age by point of access 100 47 82 Nearly half of rural Internet users are 68 A higher proportion under 20 years old of rural Internet users go online 54 in Internet cafés 30 38 24 13 12 11 12 7 2 1 3 3 Total <20 20–29 30–39 40–49 50–59 60+ Home Internet Work School Public café areas Urban Rural Sources: China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC); BCG analysis. T B C G
  11. 11. Not surprisingly, PC ownership is much rarer in rural (IM) over e-mail. For instance, 87 percent of Chinese dig-areas, as well—only 16 percent of rural residents have ital consumers use the Internet for IM, compared withaccess to household PCs, compared with 70 percent of only 53 percent for e-mail. (See Exhibit 3.) By compari-residents in tier 1 cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. son, e-mail usage rates in India, Brazil, Russia, the UnitedMore than half of rural Internet users head to Internet States, and Japan all range between 77 percent and 95cafés to go online, compared with 38 percent of urban percent. Aer China, India has the next-highest rate of IMusers. (For example, see the vignette “Rural Teenager: activity at only 62 percent.Chao Connects with Friends via Internet Cafés and HisMobile Phone” on page 16.) However, PC prices are fall- China also has the highest usage rates for online music,ing steadily, and PC firms are increasingly looking to the video, and gaming, and the second-highest rate for newsevolving habits of the rural consumer as a source of reading (aer Japan). Availability is a major factor in on-growth. line entertainment activity—the wealth of media avail- able online, due in large part to China’s loosely enforced intellectual-property laws, has made video-streaming andEntertainment and Communication music sites key entertainment destinations, although many of these platforms now license content as well.Chinese Internet users exhibit distinctive online-behaviorpatterns compared with digital consumers in other BRICI A major reason that digital consumers prefer viewingmarkets. Specifically, they use their Internet connections content online is that they can do so at their convenience.to entertain themselves and communicate with others to For instance, even though the TV drama Wo Ju ran ona much greater extent and in many more ways. Chinese network television, two of the women we inter- viewed opted to stream the series during their free mo-One of the most distinctive online habits among Chinese ments, watching it on the online video site Youku.com,consumers is the tendency to prefer instant messaging which licensed the program. Yet online platforms also al- Exhibit 3. China’s Digital Consumers Favor Instant Messaging over E-Mail Online activities by percentage of users, 2009 United China India Brazil Russia Indonesia States Japan Instant messaging 87 62 61 56 58 38 23 Online music 83 60 49 47 34 34 25 Reading news 80 61 47 65 47 70 90 Online video 76 53 49 41 16 68 49 Search engine 69 50 83 81 56 89 92 Online gaming 55 54 44 31 35 35 16 E-mail 53 95 77 78 59 91 88 Blogging 38 NA 17 33 33 11 32 Social networking 33 23 69 15 58 35 32 E-commerce1 28 17 17 21 5 71 46 Online banking 26 NA NA 11 5 55 NA Bulletin board/forum 21 NA 18 NA 33 22 13 Job hunting 19 73 NA NA 20 51 8 Others NA 57 NA 67 NA NA NA Above average2 Sources: BCG Digital Generations consumer research, 2009; Business Insider; BCG analysis. 1 E-commerce includes online travel booking, e-payments, and e-shopping. 2 Above-average categories have usage rates that are at least 10 percent higher than the average of the BRICI countries, the United States, and Japan.C’ D G . 
  12. 12. low digital consumers to catch important events in real Free Content. In China, an Internet connection grantstime. For instance, Chinese NBA fans oen prefer to users access to limitless quantities of free content. One ofwatch games live at work online rather than catching our interview subjects—Feng, a 26-year-old professionalthem on CCTV that evening. Quick access is another who lives in Beijing—summed it up best: “I would neverplus—Chinese Internet users upload new content to file- pay for music and videos because we have so many freesharing sites much more quickly than traditional media choices currently.”channels can disseminate it. And access to the content isfree of charge, as well. The Emphasis on Education. China’s strong historical and cultural emphasis onOnline gaming in China is another in- Chinese parents view education means that parents oen seecreasingly prevalent form of entertain- PCs as important their child’s learning opportunities asment. Games like Tencent’s Dungeon & something akin to a basic material need. educational tools, notFighter and NetEase’s World of Warcra “My daughter’s education is so critical toare exceedingly popular in our surveys, as luxuries. her future,” explained Xiao Peng, a 38-year-and nearly all the male respondents in old parent from Henan. “I am always will-the vignettes on pages 14 through 16 play ing to spend on anything worthwhile toonline games at some point during their day. “I love give her better positioning in the future.”to play online games, especially World of Warcra ,”explains Chaojun, a 29-year-old worker in Guilin who— Chinese parents view PCs as important educational tools,not atypically for a young single person—lives with his not as luxuries. This sense of priority is one of the driversparents. For Chaojun and many others, online gaming of the estimated 40 million PCs sold in China in 2008.can also be a form of community building. “It makes my Even poor families are able to obtain PCs, because scoreslife aer work more colorful. It’s really a very good of small businesses sell moderately priced white-box PCsexperience playing with your friends together online,” made from new and recycled parts.he said. As students head to college, they take these tools with them, using their laptop PCs for classroom tasks and so-Factors That Shape Today’s Digital cial needs. “I use my computer to take notes in class. I useReality search engines to search for papers and learning materi- als,” said Gao Lu, a 21-year-old from Beijing, who alsoWhat accounts for some of the distinctive ways in which uses IM and e-mail to communicate with friends, andChinese people use the Internet? Understanding the his- who plays online games on his computer.torical, economic, and cultural factors at play in Chinesesociety today helps explain some of these trends. Yet even young professionals who might not have owned a computer in their student days find PC ownership in-Cheap Connectivity. Government efforts to modernize creasingly vital to self-improvement. “If the materials aretelecommunications infrastructure across the country necessary and hard to get [offline], I would pay for themhave helped make broadband Internet both affordable as e-learning, since it could save a lot of time,” explainedand accessible. In fact, broadband is even less expensive Shao Linfei, a 32-year-old from Beijing. In addition, Chi-than dial-up. na’s high levels of literacy—more than 93 percent, accord- ing to the United Nations Development Programme—The Move to Digital. Although many Westerners have mean that not only many children but also most adultsowned, or still own, CD players, VCR machines, modems, (both male and female) can read online content.and fixed-line phones, China’s pace of economic develop-ment means that consumers have bypassed those tech- Lonely Only Children. One reason for the relative pop-nologies, jumping straight into the world of MP3 and ularity of entertainment and communication via theDVD players and mobile phones. Internet users in China Internet is China’s one-child policy. Implemented in 1979are therefore quite familiar with online media platforms to curb population growth, the policy has resulted in aand file-sharing technology. young Internet population that is made up overwhelm- T B C G
  13. 13. ingly of only children. Again, due to the cultural empha- means that Chinese Internet users find opportunities tosis on education, students are oen expected to study express their individuality through their online activities.when they are at home. Their PCs give them a chance This might mean participating in online communitiesto discuss homework with classmates but also to and blogging, discussing news on a bulletin board systemkeep themselves socially engaged and entertained by (BBS), or adorning avatars with unique clothing andchatting, updating pages on their social-networking sites, sprucing up a personalized page on a social-networkingplaying online games, and downloading different media site. Despite the government’s rigorous censorship andofferings. monitoring of Web sites, the Chinese In- ternet offers diverse and immediate waysChina’s Online Workplaces. As China’s As China’s digital to express oneself, whether as an exercisedigital generations grow up, they take their generations grow up, in individual style or out of a desire to aironline networks and habits with them— opinions anonymously. they take their onlineoen to their workplaces. As important ashaving an at-home broadband connection habits with them. Online Communities. As we discussedmay be, a great number of China’s online earlier, China’s young people are oencultural phenomena take shape during cooped up aer school and expected toworking hours. A modernizing, competitive, and globally study—many of them on PCs that provide inviting onlineoriented economy has filled urban office spaces with alternatives to their coursework. It’s hardly surprisingwell-educated workers who use PCs and the Internet not that adolescents use social-networking sites or onlinejust for their daily tasks but also for socializing and enter- games to connect with their schoolmate communities.tainment purposes. For instance, QQ, the IM platform of- University students also look to form communities on thefered by Tencent (China’s largest Internet-service portal), Internet. And as rural users increasingly find their wayallows workers to chat with friends while at work—out- online, the Internet offers opportunities to interact withside their corporate e-mail boxes. friends in other villages, as one of the rural middle-school- ers we spoke to does. Of course, Chinese users also formThe State-Run Media Void. Despite the more than 50 online communities—such as online-gaming guilds—cable-TV channels available in China, state control of the around shared interests.media has slowed the development of diverse and engag-ing television content. Print media outlets, which are also A Common Tongue. Finally, the Internet has had a sub-state run, are also relatively underdeveloped in terms of tle unifying effect on China. The diversity of Chinese dia-content. Cinema tickets are expensive and the selection lects such as Mandarin, Cantonese, and many others—is extremely limited. often an obstacle to comprehension of the spoken word—does not limit written comprehension because allThe sometimes barren offerings of the Chinese media the languages rely on the same characters. As a text-have helped to make the Internet a mainstream destina- based medium, the Internet brings together people whotion for entertainment and information. This has, in turn, would otherwise be unlikely—and unable—to communi-created a massive content base and has altered viewing cate with each other.habits to such an extent that many now prefer the con-venience of the customized online experience. “I rarelybuy newspapers now that I can get comprehensive infor-mation from mobile newspapers, mobile Internet, andsome information portals,” said Dai Peng, a white-collarworker in Beijing. “I spend much less time watching TVthan before, because most TV content you can easily findonline, and you can watch whichever part you want, with-out limitation.”The Expression of Individuality. The relative uniformi-ty of perspective on TV and in the print media alsoC’ D G . 
  14. 14. China’s Digital Generations From Teenagers to Middle-AgersO ur research focused on a broad group of focus of their activities is on entertainment and the Chinese people aged 14 to 55. (See the interactions within their communities. Appendix.) Within this group, we identi- fied three different generations, each Although these three age groupings provide a rough cut exhibiting very different adoption and of the market in China, they do not capture the nuancessatisfaction levels with regard to the digital experience. within—and sometimes across—generations, which oen differ by educational background and income level.◊ One group is the older generation, aged 36 to 55. Al- In order to refine online behavioral traits within these though they grew up before the economic boom in a age groups, we have created six consumer categories. (See frugal environment that offered little in the way of en- Exhibit 4.) These six categories are illustrated in the tertainment or choice, they still exhibit moderate lev- vignettes on pages 14 through 16. els of Internet adoption. Many in this age group look to the Internet to provide practical solutions to their ◊ Teenagers. Nearly nine out of ten teenagers use the everyday lives, such as easy access to news. This seg- Internet at least once a month (an Internet penetra- ment is also becoming increasingly comfortable with tion rate of 85 percent), and they spend an average of more recreational Internet use, such as social-network- 2.7 hours a day online. They usually focus on commu- ing sites, as well as with e-commerce. In general, this is nication and entertainment, such as chatting, watching a diverse group—and educational background, income movies, gaming, and listening to music. (See the levels, and PC availability have a strong influence on vignette “Jianhong’s Teen Experience Focuses on Fun, the online habits of this group’s constituent subsets. Friends, and Studies.”)◊ The next group, aged 26 to 35, witnessed tremendous ◊ University Students. Even more active on the Internet change in China during their youth. As beneficiaries of than teenagers, this group has a 99 percent penetra- the country’s reforms, they optimistically look for vari- tion rate, matching young professionals for the highest ety and new opportunities, and they value the ability share among the six groups. University students grew to voice their opinions online. This group tends to have up with digital services and are now turning to the In- a high rate of adoption of digital devices and servic- ternet to discover a world beyond family and friends, es—and appreciates the richness of information acces- spending an average of 3.6 hours a day online. They sible via popular portals. use the Internet for information, entertainment, and communication. (See the vignette “University Student:◊ The third group is the young generation—the “little Shane Works, Chats, Shops, and Relaxes Online.”) emperors,” aged 14 to 25. They have grown up in an openly capitalist environment and have seen rapid ◊ Young Professionals. Having benefited from the coun- modernization. Their life experience has been charac- try’s reforms, this group has relatively high levels of terized by opportunity and choice, and they readily income and education. They have an Internet- embrace mobile-phone use and the Internet. The penetration rate of 99 percent and are sophisticated T B C G
  15. 15. Exhibit 4: The Six Chinese Internet User Segments Have Distinct Motivations and Behaviors Most active Most influential University Young Active Passive Teenagers students professionals Young gamers middle-agers middle-agers Basics ◊ 14–18 years old ◊ 19–25 years old ◊ 26–35 years old ◊ 19–35 years old ◊ 36–55 years old ◊ 36–55 years old ◊ Have grown up ◊ Have grown up ◊ Educated ◊ Lower education ◊ Mostly middle- ◊ Lower edu- with digital with digital middle-class and income class cation and services services and above ◊ First Internet ◊ First Internet income levels ◊ 85% penetration ◊ 99% penetration ◊ First Internet experiences experiences ◊ Low adoption experiences were in internet were at work levels were while at cafés ◊ 67% penetration ◊ 38% penetration university ◊ 89% penetration ◊ 99% penetration Motivations ◊ Looking for fun ◊ Seeking friends ◊ Focusing on ◊ Looking for ◊ Looking for ◊ Seeking to relax and also support work and career excitement and support in daily and kill time in studying a sense of activities achievement Usage ◊ Heavy users ◊ Heavy users ◊ Heavy users ◊ Indulge heavily ◊ Occasional and ◊ Infrequent users (2.7 hours a day) with broad (4.0 hours a day) in entertainment pragmatic users (1.8 hours a day) ◊ Focus on activities ◊ Focus on activities (2.5 hours a day) ◊ Undertake entertainment (3.6 hours a day) communication (3.2 hours a day) ◊ Focus on simple, basic and community ◊ Focus on infor- and information ◊ Spend money information and Internet activities ◊ Willing to try mation, enter- ◊ Some and long hours transactions new activities tainment, and e-commerce on these activities community and online transactions Sources: BCG Digital Generations Consumer Research, 2009; BCG analysis. Note: Penetration measures the proportion of a segment accessing the Internet at least once a month. users of technology. They also spend the most time ◊ Active Middle-Agers. This group, aged 36 to 55, has both online, on average, at 4.0 hours a day. They engage in high income and advanced education—and an Inter- numerous digital pursuits, focusing on communication net penetration rate of 67 percent. They use the Inter- and information but also using e-commerce. (See the net mainly to search for information and news, spend- vignette “Young Professionals: Feng Uses the Internet ing an average of 2.5 hours a day online. Although for Nearly All of His Needs.”) they are less attached to chatting and entertainment, they still tend to use these services. (See the vignette◊ Young Gamers. This group, which bridges the younger “Active Middle-Ager: Jun’s Digital Devices Keep Her age groups—the little emperors and the reform benefi- Connected, Informed, and Amused.”) ciaries—consists of people aged 19 to 35 who have not attended a university and whose incomes are usually ◊ Passive Middle-Agers. Members of this group have lower lower than those of college graduates. Nearly 90 per- incomes and less education than active middle-agers. At cent of them use the Internet at least once a month, 38 percent, this group’s Internet penetration is the low- and they spend an average of 3.2 hours a day online. est among the six groups. Passive middle-agers lag be- They tend to play games, chat, and seek out other forms hind the average in nearly every area, especially chat- of entertainment. Even though the Internet penetra- ting, listening to music, downloading movies, and tion rate of this group is less than that of university stu- e-mailing. They have not grown up with the Internet dents or young professionals, young gamers make up a and, because they lack money and education, it is un- much larger swath of the Chinese population in abso- derstandable that they use the Internet only selectively, lute terms. (See the vignette “Young Gamer: Chaojun if at all. Still, they spend an average of 1.8 hours a day Plays Games Online—Before, Aer, and During Work.”) online, so they should not be overlooked entirely.C’ D G . 
  16. 16. Teenager: Jianhong’s Teen Experience Focuses on Fun, Friends, and Studies A typical day 14 years old AM 6:30 Jianhong’s mobile-phone alarm rings, Junior high school student in rousing him for the start of a new day Guilin 7:30 Arrives at school and sends his mother Only child; lives with his parents a text message saying that he arrived safely 10:00–10:10 Surreptitiously logs on to mobile QQ to “My parents usually give me $1.50 in chat with friends during a boring English allowance per school day so that I can class buy some snacks and other things. Instead, I almost always use it to pay PM 12:30–1:30 Arrives home for his noon lunch break, for playing Dungeon & Fighter and the logging on to QQ to steal friends’ cabbages QQ membership fee.” in QQ Farm aer finishing lunchPersonal monthly finances 3:30 Receives a text message from his mother during class reminding him to go to his Allowance $30 grandmother’s for dinner that evening Education $5 7:30–8:00 Uses QQ to chat with classmates about Food and clothing $5 QQ premium services $3 that day’s homework assignments Communications/entertainment $10 Online gaming $3–4 9:00–10:00 Plays the online game Dungeon & Fighter Other $5 Mobile phone $3–4 aer his homework is done Savings $5Personal digital devices ◊ Unbranded assembled desktop computer ◊ Nokia mobile phone MP3 ◊ Shares with parents ◊ Price: ~$220 ◊ Price: ~$550Internet access: 512kbps ADSL at home University Student: Shane Works, Chats, Shops, and Relaxes Online A typical day 23 years old AM 9:00 Aer waking up, checks e-mails from Fourth-year university student in professors and friends and then scans Beijing the latest financial news for interesting headlines Lives with classmates in a school 9:30–11:30 Searches online for business data related dormitory to a task from his part-time job Only child PM 12:30–1:30 Spends his lunch break watching movies Family lives in Hunan province online 1:30–2:00 Logs on to MSN to chat with friends 2:00–3:00 Explores all kinds of online resources, such as downloadable HDTV videos, internation-Personal monthly finances al magazines, and the latest online games Income $320 3:00–5:00 Attends class with his laptop, following Education $150 along from a PowerPoint presentation Food and clothing $80 prepared by his professors Communications/entertainment $50 8:00–8:30 Buys some new books on Dangdang.com, Other $20 then reads jokes online as a way of relaxing Savings $20 8:30–10:30 Searches online for research sources for a paper he is writing for one of his classesPersonal digital devices 10:30–11:30 Checks in with friends to find out how their ◊ Dell laptop ◊ Samsung mobile phone Digital MP3 days went and to bid them goodnight ◊ Price: ~$800 ◊ Price: ~$300 cameraInternet access: Broadband in dormitory T B C G
  17. 17. Young Professionals: Feng Uses the Internet for Nearly All of His Needs A typical day 26 years old AM 6:00 Wakes up and immediately checks Sina Unmarried Sports for the results of the World Cup qualifier round played while he was asleep Lives by himself in Beijing 7:30–8:20 On the subway to work, reads mobile news and an e-novel on his mobile phone “My mobile phone and the Internet are 8:30 Arrives at the office and turns on his com- parts of my life. As a subset of my spend- puter, which automatically logs on to QQ, ing on these items, I usually spend $30 a Fetion, and MSN month shopping online. Because I have extensive knowledge of digital technol- 8:45 Gets started on the day’s work assignment ogy, friends and relatives often ask me for aer receiving an e-mail from his boss advice when they buy digital goods.” 11:30–12:00 Takes a break from work, logging on toPersonal monthly finances Kaixin001.com to play Happy Farm and view friends’ shared videos and stories Monthly income $735 PM 4:30–5:00 Uses PowerPoint to write a report for his Education $30 TV $5 boss summarizing the work he’s done for Food and clothing $150 Broadband $25 the day Communications/entertainment $140 Mobile phone $60 5:00–5:30 Helps colleagues buy discounted prepaid Other (including rent) $250 Online gaming $30 calling cards on Taobao Movies/CDs/DVDs $20 Savings $165 6:00–6:10 Uses Fetion to send short messages to friends about where to grab dinner thatPersonal digital devices evening ◊ Gateway laptop ◊ Nokia mobile phone Digital MP3 9:30–10:30 Aer returning home, settles down to play ◊ Price: ~$2,000 ◊ Price: ~$300 camera World of Warcra for a while before finally heading to bedInternet access: 2Mbps ADSL at home Young Gamer: Chaojun Plays Games Online—Before, After, and During Work A typical day 29 years old AM 7:00–7:10 Wakes up and logs on to mobile QQ Unmarried worker 7:30–8:00 Uses his mobile phone to steal vegetables Lives with his parents in Guilin from his friends in QQ Farm while he gets ready for work 8:00–8:30 Visits the sports page on Kong.net for NBA “I love to play online games, especially news on the way to the factory World of Warcraft. It makes my after-work 10:00–10:30 Uses his mobile phone to listen to some life much richer. I have a really good time pop music while taking a break playing with my friends together online.” PM 12:30–2:00 Back at home on his lunch break, visits Tianya to read news and humor pagesPersonal monthly finances 4:00–4:30 Uses his mobile phone to play a few QQ casual games, such as Dou Di Zhu Income $220 7:30–8:30 Aer dinner, logs on to QQ to chat with Education $5 some friends, mainly with the intent of lin- Food and clothing $45 TV $5 ing up a group session of World of Warcra Broadband $10 Communications/entertainment $50 Mobile phone $15 8:30–10:30 Plays World of Warcra with some friends Other $30 Online gaming $20 for a while before finally turning in Savings $90Personal digital devices ◊ Unbranded assembled desktop computer ◊ K-Touch mobile phone MP3 ◊ Price: ~$650 ◊ Price: ~$200Internet access: 1Mbps ADSL at homeC’ D G . 
  18. 18. Active Middle-Ager: Jun’s Digital Devices Keep Her Connected, Informed, and Amused A typical day 41 years old AM 9:00–10:30 Starts off the workday by using Excel to Manager at a cartoon company in run some statistics about her company’s Beijing cartoon-production schedule Lives with her husband and 10:30–11:30 Logs on to Kaixin001.com to play Happy daughter Farm with friends 11:30–12:00 Aer tiring of cabbage the, logs on to QQ to chat with friends for a while “Personally, I only earn $735 per month. But my husband turns over all of his PM 1:00 Receives a call from her boss informing her income to me, and I usually make the of a meeting at 2 p.m. decisions about our purchases.” 1:00–1:10 Uses Fetion to send out a meeting request to colleagues via her work computerPersonal monthly finances so that they can read it on their mobile phones Household income $1,470 5:00–6:00 Visits Sina to read the news of the day Education $440 before leaving work Food and clothing $150 Fixed-line telephone $50 8:00–9:30 Aer dinner, catches up on the popular TV Communications/entertainment $150 Mobile phone $45 show Wo Ju on Youku.com Other $360 Broadband $30 Movies/CDs/DVDs $25 Savings $370Personal digital devices ◊ Lenovo laptop ◊ Nokia mobile phone Digital ◊ Price: ~$900 ◊ Price: ~$440 cameraInternet access: 1Mbps ADSL at home Rural Teenager: Chao Connects with Friends via Internet Cafés and His Mobile Phone A typical day 18 years old AM 8:30 Wakes up; realizes that he doesn’t need to Rural high-school student in head to school because he’s on his winter Heilongjiang holiday Only child; lives with his parents 11:00 Nonetheless, sends text messages to class- mates to discuss outstanding homework assignments “I don’t have a PC at home but there is an 11:05–11:20 Aer downing breakfast, heads to the Internet café in my village. I spend about Internet café and logs on to his personal three hours a day there during winter accounts vacation and pay about $0.20 an hour for Internet access. The Internet makes it easy 11:20–11:30 Checks Kugou for new music and uses QQ for me to communicate with my friends and to say hello to classmates in other villages to have fun.” 11:30–12:00 Steals vegetables from friends on QQ FarmPersonal monthly finances and plays Dou Di Zhu on QQ Game with Allowance $40 classmates Education $0 PM 12:00–2:00 Plays online game Chuanqyi Food and clothing $10 Internet café access $10 9:00–9:30 Ends his day by using mobile QQ to chat Communications/entertainment $20 Online gaming $6 with friends before going to sleep Other $5 Mobile phone $4 Savings $5Personal digital devices ◊ Changhong mobile phone MP3 ◊ Price: ~$100Internet access: At Internet café T B C G
  19. 19. The Rise of the Digital GiantsC hina’s diverse cast of Internet users demon- way of building and maintaining friendship networks strates a great variety of online behaviors. among young people. But one thing emerges that almost all Chi- nese Internet users share: a QQ address. How, then, has Tencent become a multibillion-dollar Created in the late 1990s by Tencent, and company? It derives revenue from ad traffic and frombased on the ICQ technology purchased by AOL from value-added services, including Internet-based ones suchMirabilis, QQ has evolved into an instant-messaging plat- as online games and avatar design, as well as from mobileform that acts as the Internet gateway for almost all new services, such as fee-based mobile IM and mobile games.users—and has therefore been the technological basis for For these services, Tencent has set up a virtual currencyan enduring network of online connections for the major- known as Q coins that users can purchase outright (ority of China’s Internet population. earn by using the mobile-phone service) and then spend on sprucing up their blog sites or avatars or buying more online-gaming time. At the same time, Tencent earns traf-Tencent’s QQ fic-based ad revenue from its portal, search, e-commerce, and IM sites.There are 523 million active QQ accounts—a numberbigger than the total population of the European Union— The development of Tencent’s business model in someowned by an estimated 280 million users. University stu- ways mirrors the evolution of Internet user habits. For in-dents or young professionals oen migrate to other plat- stance, Shane, a university student, opened his QQforms for their IM needs, although many still use and account nearly ten years ago when he was in junior highmaintain QQ accounts to keep in touch with high-school school—right aer his parents bought the household’sfriends. first PC. By 2003 he had begun spending money on “cool stuff ” on QQ to compete with his classmates. Around theIndeed, most Chinese IM users cite the convenience and same time, he also opened up an e-mail account withthe cost-effectiveness of the medium as the chief reasons NetEase’s 163.com, but he seldom uses it. He recentlyfor the frequency of their QQ use. “It’s very convenient signed up for Gmail, but he logs in mainly to checkchatting on QQ,” said Yang Bo, 33, from Beijing. “You just e-mails from professors and classmates, and not for moresit back in your chair and type in whatever words you active social purposes.want to say. You can even leave messages when yourfriends are offline.” What Tencent’s Empire Says AboutOne of the reasons for QQ’s huge user base is that its User Stickinessservices are free. This means that school-age usersdon’t have to ask for money from their parents to Although Tencent’s portfolio of services includes morecommunicate with friends (in contrast with mobile- than just IM, most of its other services are offshoots ofphone usage, for example)—and as a result, QQ is a key that platform, as illustrated by the digital day of Jianhong,C’ D G . 
  20. 20. a middle-schooler in the tier 3 city of Guilin. Jianhong tai- Although Dungeon & Fighter is a shooting game, it alsolors his QQ use to a variety of communication needs has an interactive component via the QQ IM platform,throughout his day. For instance, he uses his QQ mobile thereby offering yet another dimension of interaction.account for a surreptitious chat with friends during a Most of the young men we interviewed for this reporttedious English class, and then later—during his lunch played Dungeon & Fighter at some point during their day.hour—to steal cabbages from friends on the QQ social- But online games in general can be incredibly sticky. Old-networking platform. (Stealing cabbages is part of a er respondents have moved on to World of Warcra , forsocial-networking game; see the sidebar “China Catches the most part, and spend more time playing games thanthe Social-Networking Bug: Kaixin001.com’s Happy their younger counterparts, suggesting how compellingFarm.”) Aer dinner, he discusses homework with class- these games can be. “Online games are electronic drugsmates on QQ before following the platform to Tencent’s for me—they can provide me with different experiencesonline-gaming module, where he plays Dungeon & Fight- that you cannot get in the real world,” said Zhou Ziyan, aer for an hour—he saves his $1.50 in lunch money each 22-year-old who lives in Beijing and who spends $44 aday to spend on weapons in the game. month on online games.In fact, the success of Tencent’s online-gaming business Although Tencent’s online games have seen enormousillustrates the value of the stickiness of its QQ platform. growth in the last three years, it has other offerings that China Catches the Social-Networking Bug: Kaixin001.com’s Happy Farm Social-networking sites boomed in 2008 among university It’s impossible to say why toucai became the Internet sen- students and young professionals and quickly expanded sation of 2009, when Kaixin001.com’s parking lot game into all segments, with 130 million users by 2009 and a was just a flash in the pan a year earlier. What is clear is CAGR of 108 percent from 2007 to 2009. Much of the 2009 that viral networks are extremely powerful in China. growth was driven by the social-networking game Happy Among IT-related keywords, “toucai” was the most Farm, which became an online sensation. The game, searched-for word in 2009 on Chinanews.com. And while known as toucai (or “stealing cabbages”)—in which friends most users stole each other’s cabbages merely in the be- steal cabbages from each other’s virtual gardens—first nign spirit of the game, there was also a real—and some- became popular on the elite social-networking site Kaix- times tragic—influence on offline lives. For instance, the in001.com. Before long, versions of the game had been Chinese media reported an instance of a baby dying of ne- launched by Tencent and other sites, and people from all glect because the nurse on duty was too busy stealing cab- walks of life were plotting cabbage the during their spare bages, and another case of a wife burning down her house moments online. as revenge against her husband’s toucai addiction. Kaixin001.com’s first move was to focus on a clear target The toucai phenomenon also exemplifies the trickle-down segment: white-collar professionals, who seldom interact- nature of social networking. A game that had first caught ed on other social-networking sites. It designed platforms on among well-educated young professionals had, within that addressed young professionals’ social and entertain- several months, found its way into the habits of adoles- ment needs simultaneously, introducing interactive Web cents in tier 3 cities via Tencent’s less exclusive social- games available on a platform that also allowed for com- networking platform that links users into its IM system munication and social networking. These games started and its online-games portfolio. In order to anticipate with slave trading in 2008, aer which Kaixin001.com trends, China’s early adopters will be a crucial segment to rolled out a steady stream of simple, interactive games, watch. And although in the case of toucai it was young pro- including a parking lot game, house buying, and, ultimate- fessionals who were the tastemakers, university students ly, its farm and ranch games. Simultaneously, users could are more active social networkers. At present, 51 percent adorn their particular site with pictures and a diary and of university students in China participate in social-net- could give each other gis. “It is a perfect combination of working sites, compared with 43 percent of young profes- entertainment and communication,” explained Lu Yafen, sionals and 40 percent of young gamers. a 37-year-old from Guilin. “Stealing friends’ cabbages is another way of saying hello to them.” T B C G
  21. 21. have also become enormously popular. For instance, China’s media spectrum was on hand. And yet many Chi-QQshow sells clothes and accessories for users’ QQ ava- nese people learned about the details of the meetings attars, allowing them to spruce up their online personas Davos not through state television or newspapers butwith everything from new hairstyles to eveningwear. rather through Sina.com, the de facto news source for“I spend $1.50 per month on QQshow. I can purchase many millions of Chinese people. Sina is the most-any of the beautiful clothes on the QQshow market accessed of China’s information portals—and in terms offor my avatar,” said 17-year-old Li Jing of Guilin. “It’s total traffic, it falls just behind search engines Baidu andvery cool!” Google.cn and Tencent’s IM platform QQ. The portal has the world’s largest digital- The popularity of newspaper readership.Riding the Digital Wave: Sina reading news on the Sina has already proven the online ad Internet is remarkablyTencent is not the only digital giant to have model to be viable—and yet Chinese read-built a business empire on a deep under- high in China. ership habits are only beginning the con-standing of Chinese habits and needs—but tinuous shi toward online media. Fewerwith a market capitalization of $38 billion, and fewer Chinese Internet users findit is certainly the largest. China’s digital giants also include their news and general information from TV, newspapers,Baidu (with $24 billion in market capitalization), Alibaba. magazines, or books. In 2007, 79 percent of Internet userscom (with $10 billion in market capitalization), Ctrip.com said they read newspapers, compared with only 67 per-International ($5 billion), and Sina ($2 billion), among cent in 2009. For magazines, the drop was even more pre-others. As recently as three years ago, none of these com- cipitous—only 30 percent of Chinese Internet userspanies was clearly dominant compared with either for- sought out news and general information from maga-eign or local competitors. Since then, a decisive shi has zines in 2009, compared with 49 percent two years earli-occurred, and by 2009 the major players were in place. er. Those using Internet-based sources increased to 80 percent in 2009, from 75 percent in 2007. “Sina is a must-In China’s diverse media marketplace, Sina has risen to visit Web site every day for me,” said Feng, the Beijing-the top—thanks to its combination of content generation based young professional. “I love the news channel, asand aggregation—to establish a leading presence in the well as the sports channel.”portal market. To give a sense of the growth potential, itis useful to compare China’s market for content genera- Driven by the ability to tailor Western models to the Chi-tion and aggregation with that of the United States and nese user experience, local companies like Tencent andJapan. In 2008, content generation and aggregation had Sina outperformed their multinational competitors inrevenues of $14 billion and represented only 10 percent every Internet industry in China. Yet even more impres-of China’s overall digital market, compared with $307 bil- sive than outperforming foreign competitors is the factlion in the United States (54 percent of the U.S. online that the digital giants have outperformed their localmarket) and $80 billion in Japan (39 percent). rivals, usually under intensely competitive conditions. What China’s digital giants have in common is that theyThe popularity of reading news via the Internet is re- have found effective approaches to marketing, innova-markably high in China, with 80 percent of the Internet- tive ways of bringing products or content to users, andusing population seeking information in this way. This ways to scale rapidly. Once they have established a strongsuggests the enormous potential of online advertising. core business, they focus on improving customer sticki-However, the market is still fairly undeveloped. At 4 per- ness. They are also focusing on the future—we see acent of China’s total advertising share in 2006, online shared emphasis on building their vertical Internet seg-advertising represented but a small slice, although its ments, expanding across value chains, and developingshare doubled to 8 percent of the market in 2008 and is strategies for overseas growth.estimated to grow to 20 percent by 2012.At the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in early2010, a huge delegation of Chinese journalists from acrossC’ D G . 
  22. 22. The E-Commerce RevolutionO ne of the biggest trend shis in China is The purchasing activity of these online shoppers is im- the rise of e-commerce. As recently as pressive—nearly half of them made at least 11 online 2007, many online consumers were wary purchases in 2008, and 40 percent of them spent more of online purchasing and the apparent than $294 that year. People are increasingly buying more lack of enforcement or payment mecha- complex products, with apparel and accessories, books,nisms. Business-to-business transactions accounted for cosmetics, and consumer electronics topping the list inmost of China’s e-commerce. But things have changed 2008, compared with books, digital cards, and flowerssignificantly. While the business-to-business segment in 2004.is still the largest by total transaction value, consumer-to-consumer and business-to-consumer transactions Users can pay in a variety of ways, including by cash orare experiencing the fastest growth: they totaled $37 bil- debit card upon delivery or, to an increasing extent, bylion in 2009 and are expected to surpass $100 billion online payment platforms, although such platforms arein 2012. We expect business-to-consumer transactions still in the early stages of development. Some 93 percentto grow 61 percent annually from 2009 through 2012, of digital consumers pay in cash, compared with 53 per-while consumer-to-consumer volume will grow 45 per- cent via bankcard—and only 20 percent use online pay-cent annually. ment systems. (See Exhibit 5.) Still, 39 percent of young professionals and 30 percent of university students say they pay online.Online Consumer Behavior Doubts about quality and trustworthiness continue to beThe brisk growth in disposable incomes that urban Chi- the biggest obstacles for online shopping, with concernsnese workers have seen in recent years has put more about “product quality” and “seller cheating” topping themoney in the hands of already-keen users of e-commerce, list. Such concerns typically come from older users; young-which in turn has influenced—and will continue to influ- er Internet users are little bothered by these concerns.ence—the habits of millions of other users.Some 8 percent of the Chinese population now shop Case Study: Taobaoonline, compared with just 3 percent in 2006. E-com-merce adoption is estimated to jump to 19 percent of the The growing willingness to trust the quality of onlinepopulation by 2012. Young professionals, the group products is perhaps best illustrated by the growth ofthat tends to be the early adopters, are at the vanguard Taobao, part of Alibaba Group (which also owns theof this trend, with 49 percent of them shopping online, popular business-to-business site Alibaba.com). Whenfollowed by 39 percent of university students. They Chinese people shop online, they’re generally using Tao-cite price as their biggest incentive to shop online, bao, which now dominates the consumer-to-consumerfollowed by convenience, efficiency, and product market with an 85 percent share of total transactionchoice. value. T B C G
  23. 23. Exhibit 5. University Students and Young Professionals Are the Most Active in Both Online Research and E-Commerce Learn Buy Pay From which channels do you Through which channels do you Through which channels do you usually obtain product information usually make purchases? usually make payments? before purchasing? Word of mouth 81 Physical 100 Cash 93 77 channel Sales representative Online TV or radio 71 channel 28 Bank card 53 Print media 54 Online Mail order 26 payment 20 Internet 36 Mail or transfer Other 9 Other 10 payment 8 0 50 100 0 50 100 0 50 100 Internet users (%) Internet users (%) Internet users (%) Breakdown by Breakdown by Breakdown by 57 55 segment (%) segment (%) segment (%) 49 40 39 39 33 34 28 30 23 21 22 24 19 17 12 14 Teen- Young Active Teen- Young Active Teen- Young Active agers profes- middle- agers profes- middle- agers profes- middle- sional ager sional ager sional ager Univer- Young Passive Univer- Young Passive Univer- Young Passive sity gamer middle- sity gamer middle- sity gamer middle- student ager student ager student ager Sources: BCG Digital Generations Consumer Research, 2009; BCG analysis.Several years ago, Taobao (which means “treasure hunt”) sidebar “Christine’s Digital Week: How Does She Shop?”)was not a significant e-commerce presence. Its first moves Christine mainly purchased consumer electronics, includ-were to allow all sellers to use the site for free and to ing a camera, a keyboard, and earphones, although shelaunch Alipay, a secure online payment system, in 2003. also bought a good deal of makeup, jewelry, and clothes.It also guaranteed product quality by offering refunds to One of the reasons that she turns to Taobao is the rangedefrauded buyers and making sure that buyers could of selection: “You can find nearly everything you want onrate sellers aer having made a purchase, with historical- Taobao. Many of those things you can’t find in shops.”ratings records visible to buyers. Convenience and price are also factors, though. “It really saves me a lot of time, and I can shop anytime I want. InChristine, 26, is a typical Taobao customer, with a serious most cases, the prices are cheaper but the quality is stillonline shopping habit—and she is a good example of good,” she said.how Taobao’s popularity has taken hold. This young Bei-jing professional checks Taobao and online bookstoreJoyo.com (acquired by Amazon.com in 2004) each day, Informing Consumer Choice—Bothscouring those sites for deals, promotions, and new prod- Online and Offucts. In 2009, she spent $905, or 30 percent of her annualshopping budget, on Taobao, compared with $1,370 off- One reason that Chinese consumers have been able toline and $740 on business-to-consumer sites. (See the move past their worries about product quality is the grow-C’ D G . 

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