Mostly it’s foreign businesses buying from Chinese firms, iResearch says.

E-commerce transactions between China and other countries increased 32% to 2.3 trillion yuan ($375.8 billion) in 2012 and accounted for 9.6% of China’s total international trade, according to the newly released “2012 China Cross Border e-commerce report” from iResearch, a research firm based in Beijing. Business-to-business transactions—mostly overseas companies ordering online from Chinese firms—accounted for 95% of that cross-border trade, with Chinese consumers buying from foreign web sites most of the rest.

“The market continues to develop at high speed and will reach 6.5 trillion yuan ($1.1 trillion) by 2016, representing 19% of China’s total import and export volume of China,” Xie Chun, the iResearch analyst who wrote the report, tells Internet Retailer.  

Xie adds, “The 2.3 trillion yuan transactions include B2B and B2C. B2C e-retailing is approximately 5% of total cross border e-commerce volume in 2012, which is 115 billion yuan ($18.8 billion).”

More than 90% of cross border e-commerce transactions in 2012 were exports to other countries from China. The U.S. purchased the most goods from China, 17.2% of the total, including both purchases by businesses and consumers. Europe was next at 16.3%, followed by Hong Kong (15.8%), South Asia (10%), Japan (7.4%), Korea (4.3%) and India (2.3%), according to the iResearch report. Popular categories for cross-border e-commerce trade include electronics, apparel and sporting goods, the report says.

In terms of business-to-consumer cross-border e-commerce, much of it comes from Chinese customers ordering from overseas sites. According to iResearch, many of these shoppers are young adults living in cities with relatively high income. Their purchasing frequency is low, but their spending per purchase is high, the report says. Chinese consumers often purchase beauty, baby, electronics and luxury products from overseas online retailers.  As more Chinese customers become accustomed to purchasing directly from overseas, iResearch predicts cross-border online imports will grow gradually.


IResearch declined to make public its estimate of sales by Chinese retailers to online shoppers overseas. But some Chinese companies are starting to sell online to shoppers in other countries, including on sites operated by U.S.-based eBay Inc. In a November 2012 report eBay said more than 7,500 eBay sellers and PayPal merchants in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan were selling more than $100,000 a year to online shoppers in other countries, with 598 selling more than $1 million a year.  Another example is Beijing-based LightInTheBox, which specializes in selling online to overseas consumers. The retailer reported selling $200 million online in 2012.

The Chinese government has adopted new policies to motivate cross-border e-commerce in the last year.  That includes building industrial parks that specialize in cross-boarder e-retailing in five cities on a trial basis. The government has also made it easier for Chinese e-retailers to receive money from consumers in other countries.