May 29, 2014, 4:36 PM

China officially passes the U.S. in e-commerce

Online retail sales in China totaled $296.57 billion in 2013, 13% more than U.S. e-retail sales of $262.51 billion.

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BEIJING—China’s Ministry of Commerce released today its official estimate of 2013 online retail sales, confirming what many already suspected: Chinese consumers now buy more online than do their U.S. counterparts.

Online retail sales in China in 2013 totaled 1.85 trillion yuan ($296.57 billion) in 2013, representing 41.2% growth from 2012—triple the growth rate of overall retail sales in China, according to the Ministry of Commerce. China’s online shopping total is 13.0% more than 2013 U.S. e-retail sales of $262.51 billion, which grew 16.9% in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“Driven by new technology and innovative business models, the e-commerce industry has become one of the new engines for the economic development in China and helps Chinese companies explore the international market.” Li Jinqi, director of the bureau of e-commerce at China’s Ministry of Commerce said today in a presentation to the 2014 China (Beijing) E-Commerce Conference where he reported the official e-commerce figures for 2013. (The July issue of Internet Retailer magazine will feature a survey about e-commerce technology trends. Please click to take part in the short survey.)

The Ministry of Commerce report says total e-commerce in China in 2013, including transactions between companies, totaled 10 trillion yuan ($1.6 trillion.)

Helping fuel the growth in online retail sales was an increase in the number of Chinese consumers shopping online, from 242 million in 2012 to 302 million in 2013, a 24.7% increase, according to the government report.

The number of Chinese using the Internet grew 8.5% to 618 million at the end of 2013, a net increase of 52.4 million online consumers. Mobile Internet users grew even faster, by 19.0% over the prior year, to 500 million, an increase of 80.1 million shoppers going online via mobile devices.

The report underscores the dominant position in China e-commerce of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Alibaba's two big online marketplaces, Taobao and Tmall, handled $248 billion in purchases in 2013, according to Alibaba's recent filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission in preparation for offering shares on a U.S. stock exchange. That means Alibaba accounted for nearly 84% of e-retail volume in China in 2014.

The Ministry of Commerce also pointed to cross-border e-commerce as an area of especially fast growth. Including both exports and imports, online retail transactions across China’s borders grew 43.3% in 2013 to $21.4 billion. The report did not break out imports versus exports. But e-commerce still represents less than 1.0% of China’s total trade. In 2013, the country’s trade volume reached $4.16 trillion, up 7.6% from 2012. Total exports increased 7.9% to $2.21 trillion and imports increased 7.3% to $1.95 trillion, the report said.

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