China is about to achieve a historic e-commerce milestone—and no other country comes close

China is set to become the first country in history that will see a majority of its retail sales conducted online instead of via traditional brick-and-mortar stores. That’s according to a new report from digital marketing research firm eMarketer. “China will take a step in its digital transformation this year that once would have seemed almost unthinkable,” the firm’s research note explains. “For the first time anywhere, a majority of retail sales for an entire country will transact online.”

Specifically, China is set to see 52.1% of all its retail sales conducted online at the end of 2021. That’s up a staggering 7.3% from 2020, where China saw 44.8% of its total retail sales conducted online. According to eMarketer the historic switch to a majority-online retail sales country is driven by two main factors:

  • Social commerce: this refers to e-commerce transactions driven and conducted through social media channels. Tencent’s WeChat’s Mini Programs was a big driver of this, allowing third-party businesses to access always-connected shoppers. Another big driver on the social commerce side is livestreaming “Live Commerce” via video-centric social media apps like Douyin (what TikTok is called in China).


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