Share of eTailers has been increasing in the China Smartphone Market, IDC Reports

27 Sep 2015

Singapore, September 28, 2015 - IDC's latest Mobile Phone Tracker shows the share of eTailers (such as JD, Alibaba's Tmall and Suning Yigou) for smartphones sold in China has increased from 14% in 2014Q2 to 21% in 2015Q2. In terms of unit growth, the number of smartphones sold through eTailers has increased by 58% year-on-year (YoY) in 2015Q2.

"With operators reducing their smartphone subsidy, there is greater opportunity in the open market for vendors, and eTailers are a key channel that vendors are focusing on”, said Tay Xiaohan, Senior Market Analyst with IDC Asia/Pacific's Client Devices team. "eTailers in China often offer discounts or free gifts to consumers, and also tend to sell phones at a lower price as compared to the offline retail shops. They have also started offering more services in the recent years", Tay added.

IDC expects the share of eTailers to grow over the next few years. Other reasons include:

  • Promotions. The three major players JD, Tmall and Suning Yigou have huge promotions at least three times a year. This includes the promotions on 18 June and 18 August to celebrate the anniversary of JD and Suning Yigou respectively. Other eTailers often follow suit on the same day with a promotion when one eTailer launches one. Another major online festival to boost sales is the annual Singles Day promotion held every 11th of November.
  • Services. eTailers such as JD offers consumers the option of paying for a phone through monthly instalments or trade in their old phones, as well as sells services like insurance for mobile phone screens, where JD will repair the phone for free or provide monetary compensation in the event that a consumer damages the screen.
  • Variety of models. There are some phone models that can be found only through eTailers. Also, there is greater variety of models offered through an eTailer. For example, one might need to head to a specific vendor branded retail shop to look for a certain phone. Even though some shops may carry a few brands, they are not able to offer the same variety of models that an eTailer can offer.
  • Convenience. From same-day delivery of purchased phones to easy price comparison of phone models and access to user reviews and feedback, eTailers offer greater convenience to consumers.

Even vendors like Xiaomi who puts a large emphasis on selling via its website recently signed a deal with JD to open an online store on their website in May 2015. Huawei, which sold the most number of phones through eTailers in 2015 Q2, also has an online store with the three major eTailers in China. With most major vendors setting up agreements with eTailers and the additional services the latter provides, eTailers will continue to be a popular channel in China in the coming years.

Both Alibaba and JD have taken steps this year to increase their coverage in the rural areas. However, coverage will still be a challenge and it may take a while for consumers in the rural areas to adapt to purchasing phones online, which will result in a slow growth in these areas.

"The share of eTailers will continue to grow on a YoY basis, but it will not be at a fast rate, as growth will continue to come mainly from Tier 1 and 2 cities. In Tier 1 and 2 cities, the share of eTailers will eat into that of retail shops, and we are likely to see the smaller retail shops closing down in the coming years," said Tay.

For more information about the research or to purchase this data, please contact Shari Jane Jansen at If you would like to be on our mailing list for IDC's Asia/Pacific press releases, please register here.

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