Introduction

The success story of China's economy along with its social and cultural development is impossible to dissociate from the rise of digital. A mix of huge scale, fast growth and lack of pre-digital legacy behaviors have created a perfect storm. The twin force of skilled web entrepreneurs and eager consumers have turned China into a "digital first" country where cash is becoming optional, e-commerce is increasingly the default for any sort of purchase and social relationships are built in large part through chat apps. Consider for instance the following data points:

  • China leads the e-commerce market in the world with $752 billion in online retail sales in 2016, over half made through mobile commerce (Deloitte)
  • E-commerce represents 13.5% of retail sales in China vs. 8.2% in the USA (McKinsey)
  • Chinese e-commerce shoppers have the highest average number of purchases per month in the world with 8.4 purchases on average (Alibaba)
  • Mobile represents 56% of web traffic in China versus 37% for the USA (statcounter)
  • A third of WeChat's 938 million users spend over four hours per day on the app (Tencent)
  • In 2016 Chinese consumers spent 5.5 trillion USD through mobile payment tools, over 50 times the figure for the US (Financial Times)

The context: The perennial question of where to invest