The social side of e-commerce: lessons from rural China

29 June 2016
China could become the world’s biggest e-commerce market
Every year another 30 million Chinese people will go online to shop, a recent Boston Consulting Group report has found.

Research highlights: The social side of e-commerce

Pushed by a government-subsidised rollout of internet – and poor bricks-and-mortar retailers – China could become the world’s biggest e-commerce market within four years.

And while you’d imagine the online revolution taking hold largely in China’s eastern metropolises, it is also developing in some of the remotest locations, such as several villages and counties in the Zhejiang Province, were e-commerce is improving the lives of the most digitally excluded segments of society. Dr Barney Tan explores the social side of e-commerce in his latest research.

Concerned that internet growth in China’s urban centres may eventually plateau, e-commerce giant Alibaba has so far provided internet infrastructure and access to its Taobao portal to the people of nearly 800 remote rural villages. It has earmarked another 10,000 villages for development.

With a Taobao portal linking these villages to the rest of China and the world, Dr Tan says the people living there are enabled to develop commercial enterprises and purchase consumer products via the internet.

Alibaba recognises that opportunities in developed markets could plateau and become increasingly saturated so they have decided that reaching out to areas that were previously digitally excluded would be a way to continue their business growth.
Dr Barney Tan

Published work

Tan B, Pan SL, Lu X and Huang L 2015 'The Role of IS Capabilities in the Development of Multi-Sided Platforms: The Digital Ecosystem Strategy of', Journal of the Association for Information Systems, vol.16:4, pp. 248-80

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The social side of e-commerce with Dr Barney Tan

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