Online Marketing in China: The Ultimate Guide

With over 1 billion people online, it’s fair to say that China is a huge market when it comes to digital marketing. While the country is still largely unfamiliar with online marketing, social media and web analytics, things are changing quickly. In this article, we’ll discuss the major issues surrounding digital marketing in China, including the regulatory framework, tools, platforms, and methods for effectively marketing online.

Regulatory Framework

If there’s one place to start when discussing regulatory framework, it’s the Big Bad Wolf. Launched in 2003 by American media magnate Ted Sarandon, the Big Bad Wolf was the first foreign media brand to successfully implement an advertising campaign in China. Besides the Big Bad Wolf, there are other popular foreign brands such as HP and Dell that have set up shop in China, and established themselves in the country’s consumer tech industry. So far, these companies have avoided any major controversies.

If you run a business or work for a company in China, then you need to register with the government. This ensures that you are operating within the law and that your business is following all proper procedures. A registration certificate is not required, but it cannot be denied that it’s a handy thing to have. In 2018, there were over 1.5 million businesses registered in China, although the exact numbers are unknown. The vast majority of these businesses are micro-entrepreneurs that operate on a small scale.

Consumer Tech

While China’s economic growth over the years has been nothing short of phenomenal, it hasn’t exactly benefited the country’s consumers. Although most Chinese people enjoy high-speed internet and mobile phones, these devices can be quite costly. In fact, a whopping 85% of the population in China is still not online. In comparison, in the United States only 56.2% of the population is disconnected.

With consumers still relying on old-fashioned methods of communication such as phone calls and faxes, opportunities for online marketing in China are practically endless. In recent years, Chinese consumers have been exposed to online marketing through social media platforms and search engines like Google, and it’s changed the way they behave online. Today, China is already one of the world’s biggest marketplaces when it comes to online shopping – over 400 million consumers visit the site daily – and many retailers have adjusted their business models to take advantage of this. Most large companies in China have established themselves in consumer technology industries, such as touch-screen displays, mobile phones, and PCs. Additionally, 37.5 million people in China shop online every month, which amounts to a market size equivalent to the size of the UK.


In China, as across the world, e-commerce is the shopping mall. In 2017, online shopping in China reached 445.9 billion U.S. dollars, which is equivalent to around 69.5% of the country’s GDP. While many large brands have established themselves in China, mostly in the clothing industry, there are also a growing number of online mall destinations that feature small and independent brands, as well as luxury brands. Alibaba, Ants, and JD are just a few of the international brands that have set up shop in China and gained significant consumer traction, largely thanks to the country’s growing middle class.

Besides physical buying, Chinese consumers are also exploring the possibility of purchasing virtual goods and digital subscriptions. In recent years, Tencent, TikTok’s parent company, established itself as one of the world’s largest social media platforms, with over 300 million users. Its portfolio of properties includes WeChat – an all-in-one messaging, mobile phone, and social media platform – as well as virtual reality headset maker GO. Additionally, TikTok and WeChat both allow users to create virtual stores that sell an array of goods and services, ranging from clothes to technology and software.

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones are a part of everyday life in China. As of December 2017, there were 300 million users in China who access the internet via their mobile phones. According to Statista, around 83% of Chinese adults use mobile phones, with the average user spending over 4 hours per day on the apps, social media, or surfing the web. In 2019, mobile phone usage in China will reach 500 million users. This makes it one of the world’s largest internet usage populations through a smartphone.

While mobile phones allow for easy and accessible internet usage, that’s not to say that all mobile phones in China are created equal. In fact, the proliferation of cheap, imported mobile phones that are flooded the market has led to a decline in the quality of phones sold in the country. This affects every element of user experience, from call quality and screen resolution to how fast the devices are and how stable they are when used for internet browsing.

Web Analytics

Besides social media and mobile phones, the web has also become an important platform for marketing in China. According to statista, there are currently 56.7 million internet users in China who access web analytics. This is a 13% increase from the previous year. While the numbers are relatively low, it’s still a lucrative market. Website owners can use tools such as Web Analytics to track the traffic that comes from China, as well as the other 49 countries that constitute the “greater China” region. As with many other markets, China’s middle class is leading the way when it comes to digital consumption – 54.7% of Chinese adults use web analytics, compared to 45.3% of the population as a whole. With an average user spending nearly eight hours per day on their smartphones and tablets, it’s clear that China’s digital marketer’s and marketers’ best friend is the web analytics tool.

Along with the rest of the world, China is experiencing the benefits of digital marketing. With more and more people taking to the web, social media, and mobile phones to find information, connect with others, and shop online, the opportunities for marketers are endless.