Never mind “mobile first” — China is going “mobile only”

China Market Research: Chinese internet users mobile centrism

China’s authority on national internet statistics (CNNIC) published its bi-annual state-of-the-web report today. The numbers paint a picture of a national user base increasingly centered around mobile phones.

Three key stats stand out:

1. The internet population is growing

China’s total internet-using population hit 829 million at the end of 2018, up from 772 million in December 2017.

2. 98.6% of internet users access the web via mobile phone

That’s basically everybody, then. And that proportion is up from 97.5% last year. Desktop use, meanwhile, took a tumble over the last 12 months, from 53% in 2017 down to 48% last year.

Check this out:

Chinese Internet Market Research: Chinese user behavior desktop laptop useage

3. The total number of websites fell nationally

There hasn’t been a drop in the number of Chinese websites since at least 2011, but the number fell last year from 5.33 million to 5.23 million. The report doesn’t really clarify why, and the down-trend is probably a temporary blip. But regardless, it’s also true that businesses have the luxury of concluding that they just don’t need a standalone website to operate effectively in China.

Instead, they may prefer to centralize their online presence on third-party platforms where their customer base has already gathered. For example, a company might run its marketing via WeChat and its retail via Taobao, Tmall, or a Wechat mini-store, without the investment or hassle of running a server.

Note: There’s been some speculation that site shutdowns by the government might be partially responsible for the drop. But Xinhua puts the number of websites shuttered by censors at only 26,000, so unless very serious underreporting is going on, that theory doesn’t really hold up.

Why it matters

China’s been trending away from desktop for a few years now, but the sudden drop-off of desktop use is probably indicative of rising internet penetration rates among China’s rural and lower-income populations. Net users outside of urban areas are less likely to have access to desktops at home or school, and are more likely to access the net via personal mobile devices.


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