Many said mobile netizens in 3rd and 4th tier cities (as mobile phone should play a more dominant role than PC) are untapped market having huge growth potentials, but do we really understand their mindset? As a Chinese netizen born and raised in first tier city Shanghai, I often have a bit difficulty in conjecturing up their distinctive online behaviors. Perhaps China is too vast and populous with diverse local cultures and dialects, even for a native like me to figure out. Most of the time, we often encounter research study encompassing the whole country, without categorizing into different tier cities.

I just finished reading the survey results from iiMedia, sketching a rough picture about China mobile netizens in tiers 3-4 cities. This report was published in July based on the sample size of 7068 respondents during the time between April and May this year.

I perceive research firms often have slightly different standards of classifying China’s cities. For iiMedia, they categorized a total of 351 cities into tiers 1-5, and among them, 250 cities are selected as tier 3-4.

iiMedia estimated that the number of mobile netizens in tier 3-4 cities till the end of 2012 should be around 163 million, characterized as:

  • High testosterone, because 64.8% male vs 35.2% female
  • young, 70% of the respondents are below age 24, and no big surprise most are students
  • lower education, only 14.2% of them have university education
  • low income, 91% of them earn monthly below RMB5000, and in particular 34.6% earn monthly below RMB1500
  • rather isolated life, 74% of respondents confined to home to access mobile internet

Thus for those who are about to wear their dancing shoes to cheer about the great mobile internet potentials from 3-4 tier cities, probably need to calm down. The purchasing powers of these mobile netizens still seem fairly limited at this moment.  

Nevertheless one very strong urge from them is buying a smart phone.

  • 74.1% of the feature phone respondents would like to purchase a smart phone in the next 6 months
  • 68.8% of the smart phone respondents would like to replace the old one in the next 6 months

And where they would like to buy smart phone?

  • 28% chose the offline stores operated by China telecommunication companies, i.e China Telecom, China Mobile, China Unicom
  • 22.6% would like to purchase in smartphone brand flagship store
  • 14.1% from e-commerce

So smartphone manufacturers, listen carefully and time to rub your hands to do something. Perhaps above 3 integrated channels might be the best solution to target your potential customers in tier 3-4 in China.

What about their attitude toward mobile shopping?

Well, quite discreet and not that open.

The survey showed that only 39.4% of respondents either searched or purchased products via mobile phone in the last month.

Among them,

  • 55% either searched or purchased computer, phone or small electronics, which makes sense as it is more or less a male driven mobile internet market
  • 39.8% either searched or purchased apparels

I reckon these statistics are revealing the mobile search tendency rather than mobile shopping preference. On top of that, the majority of mobile netizens across different age groups did not consider themselves perceptible to mobile ads so as to trigger shopping desire.  

The survey study at least opens a small window to allow us glimpse the mindset of mobile netizens in tier 3-4 cities. It still feels like a virgin soil, waiting to be plowed and toiled. As for unleash its full growth potentials, the ripe time has not arrived yet, though the low hanging fruit is obviously smart phone sale. At least let everyone there has a smart phone first; then we can come up something else.




By Cécilia Wu
English & Chinese Editorial Manager