In 2019, the Chinese retail revenue amounted to around 13 trillion yuan while the contribution of merchandise trade to the country’s GDP was around 32 percent. Slowing exports and an increase in volume of domestic markets indicate a strategy shift of the Chinese economy towards satisfying domestic demand. As rural and urban households have witnessed a steady growth of disposable incomes, the spending power of the Chinese population has also increased dramatically and the Chinese market has matured into one of the largest and still growing consumer markets worldwide. Foreign and domestic retailers both vie strongly for the attention of the Chinese consumer. Retail sales of consumer goods in China grew by more than eight percent annually in the past five years. Though in-store retail still held the largest market share among all retail channels, coronavirus outbreak has boosted online retail in China. Around 23 percent of the retail sales of fast moving consumer goods in the country were attributed to the online shopping segment as of 2020. Online consumption of consumer goods has increased significantly in the past decade.
Amid the recent China-U.S. trade war and related economic uncertainties, however, some retail sectors and product categories were less successful than others. For example, car sales in China dropped in 2018 for the first time since 1992 and continued decreasing the following year. Given that automotive industry being the major driving force in retail sector in China, this slowdown is undoubtedly affecting the overall development of the retail market. On the other hand, other large retail categories such as electronics and home appliances, FMCG, apparel, and pharmaceuticals all showed a continuous growth in recent years.
The Chinese retail sales market is highly competitive and diversified, with the 100 leading retail companies taking up a market share of relatively low 6.3 percent in 2019. One could even observe a negative trend, as market shares of the leading retail chains were receding over the past few years. With a sales volume of about 379 billion yuan in 2019, Suning Commerce Group ranked first among the leading retail chain operators in China, followed by Gome Electrical Appliances and Red Star Maccalline. In terms of convenience store sector, Sinopec Group dominated the market as of 2019. Convenient stores are among the fastest growing retail channels for consumer goods, especially grocery shopping in China.
Nevertheless, according to China’s leading online retailer Alibaba, the future of retail is not about the choice of channels, but about consumer experience. The wave of so-called new retail is transforming retail strategy in China at a high-speed pace through digitalization, data collection, product history tracking functions, improved home delivery, sensory marketing, and a number of other innovative components. O2O (online to offline) marketing is being replaced by OMO (online merge offline), combining the best of both online and offline shopping experiences.