The Chinese are first in line when it comes to online shopping, with one in seven turning to the Internet for a purchase every day and more than 60 percent shopping weekly, a ratio that is much higher than the global average, said a report released on Tuesday in Shanghai by consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers.
PwC's survey covered more than 15,000 online shoppers in 15 regions, including 900 people in China.
"Shopping online is a daily routine for me. Shopping online is not only about buying the things you need or want, it's also about information sharing, communications and a way to keep up with the times. When you see so many of the latest models of technical devices, as well as new books and fashion styles, you don't feel left behind," said Luo Lijiao. The 32-year-old Shanghai-based laboratory worker said she shops online almost every day.
The surge in e-commerce doesn't necessarily mean that it's all bleak for brick-and-mortar stores, since consumers expect more than just "things" when they shop. Instead, they want a "total retail" approach that brings the digital experience to the physical world while offering a more integrated and personalized experience, according to PwC's report.
China's online consumers are also more active when it comes to shopping through social networks, leaving reviews of what they bought and how they were treated, according to the research.
Online shopping has become almost an essential part of daily life, said Kevin Wang, who specializes in retail at PwC.
"Customers use many devices, and they need an enhanced and consistent experience across all their devices. Customer information must 'travel' with each device and still be secure," said Wang.
China remains in a class of its own in terms of the use of mobile technology to shop. One in four Chinese shop on a mobile phone or smartphone at least once a week, compared with 9 percent for global respondents.
According to the survey, shoppers also increasingly want personalization based on their past purchases, and retailers are getting better at delivering it through such means as daily deals.
"China is more advanced in its use of mobile in the shopping experience than arguably anywhere else in the world, yet few retailers are bringing a digital experience to the physical store," said Colin Light, who leads the digital consulting practice for PwC covering the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong.
Increasingly, PwC found, people are using brick-and-mortar stores as "showrooms" instead of places to buy, and retailers need to embrace this trend by providing more links between showrooms and online shops.
According to Qi Xiaozhai, dean of the Shanghai Commercial Economic Research Center, brick-and-mortar stores can give consumers more knowledge about brands, and a pleasant shopping experience at a well-organized outlet can't be replaced by e-commerce platforms.
The survey also found that consumers want to give feedback. More than 90 percent of the 900 China-based respondents and 55 percent of the some 15,000 global respondents provided either positive or negative comments about their experiences with a product or brand on social media.
"Companies must think about their investments in social media to enhance consumer engagement," said Carrie Yu of PwC's Hong Kong retail practice.