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A jaw-dropping datapoint on Chinese e-commerce is good news for foreign firms

Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

We knew Chinese e-commerce was big—its biggest sales day absolutely crushed America’s last year—but our ears perked up yesterday when William Zarit, the the top US commercial diplomat in Beijing, quantified just how big at a conference yesterday.

China’s online sales are a big deal, even if some of them come from dodging taxes. In particular, the internet makes it possible to reach customers in China’s so-called second-, third- and fourth-tier cities, where many foreign brands haven’t established a physical footprint. Residents of these cities spend a whopping 27% of their disposable income online, compared with only 18% in China’s larger municipalities. That sounds like the world-shrinking commercial miracle we were promised.

Photo credit: AP / Greg Baker