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Chinese use mobile phones 'for everything,' says Mexican academic

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-05-02 13:48
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Mobile phone users on a subway train in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu province, June 14, 2016. [Photo/VCG]

MEXICO CITY - The Chinese people are using mobile phones to do so many things that go beyond their original functions, a Mexican academic who once lived in Shanghai has found.

Adolfo Laborde, an expert in international relations and once a visiting scholar at Fudan University in Shanghai, said he learned to use his phone to get groceries, book train tickets or rent a bicycle - all through the instant messaging app WeChat, which integrates a whole bunch of daily activities.

"You use it as a means of payment. You have your bank account information there and you use the mobile phone for everything," said Laborde, who lived in Shanghai during the second half of 2016.

As of December 2016, the number of internet users in China had reached 731 million, more than the entire population of Europe, and some 95 percent of netizens, or 695 million people, connect to the web via mobile devices, data from China's Internet Network Information Center shows.

In addition, 469 million Chinese are used to making payments via mobile phones, and 208 million use it to order takeout food.

E-commerce transactions in China amounted to 21.8 billion yuan ($3.2 billion) in 2015. The figure is expected to reach 38 billion yuan ($5.5 billion) by 2020.

E-commerce boosts consumption, said Laborde, because apps make it so much easier to make purchases without cash. Online transactions often offer added benefits as well, such as discounts or special promotions.

The rise in online retail sales has been accompanied by the advancement of logistics as the goods have to be delivered to the customers.

In densely populated Shanghai, for instance, that has led to a flourishing of delivery companies, which use specially adapted bikes or motorbikes to carry big or large numbers of items for efficiency's sake.

"The logistics is impressive," said Laborde, "with collection points at (street) corners. It shows the domestic market is moving through this e-commerce."

According to analysts at The Financial Times, online purchases represented 18 percent of all retail sales in China in 2016, while in the United States that number was 8 percent.

Jorge Sanchez Tello, a researcher at the Foundation for Financial Studies at Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, said the growth of online shopping in the world's second-largest economy has been driven by an expanding middle class and broadband network.

Tello said the one-day transaction on Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's online shopping sites on so-called Singles' Day in 2014 was equivalent to the sales of an entire quarter at Walmart in Mexico.

In 2009, Alibaba first turned the Nov11 "Singles' Day," originally a popular concept celebrated somewhat self-mockingly by unmarried Chinese youth, to an online shopping carnival for all in a bid to promote sales. Its sales on that day did experience exponential growth successively in the ensuing years.

In Mexico's case, Laborde said, e-commerce still faces two major hurdles - online security and logistical challenges. Public distrust in online activities also plays a part.

"There is a lot of distrust. People still think their information will be stolen, because it happens, and deliveries are slow," Laborde said.

Online purchases in Mexico grew by 59 percent from 2014 to 2015, with sales of over 257 billion pesos ($13.606 million), according to the Mexican Internet Association.

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