To understand the Internet in China, it is necessary to look at it through the lenses of users and learn how they experience it in their daily lives. The Internet is not monolithic in China or anywhere else but rather a broad canvas across which users can move among interests and activities. It is crucially important for companies that want to reach consumers in China to understand them on their terms and not impose mental maps drawn from other markets.
In previous reports on China’s digital generations, we relied on six segments, based on income and age, to provide that perspective. Those six segments are still valid but do not accommodate rapid recent growth among older generations and rural residents. Accordingly, we have added a rural and a senior segment. (See Exhibit 1.)
The segmentation helps identify both top-down and bottom-up views of the Internet market in China. The view from the top has some surprises. The rural market has 26 percent of Internet users and 22 percent of Internet hours—big numbers for a segment that has not received the attention that the urban and youth segments have. In fact, the rural market has more users than the young-seeker segment—individuals aged 26 to 35 who have not been to college—which historically has led the pack. The senior segment may be the latest to use the Internet, but it is catching up quickly. The average senior user is on the Internet 3.5 hours a day—almost as much time as active middle-aged users. (See Exhibit 2.)
Our segmentation is broad and basic, filtering the market through the screens of age, income, and location. And while it is battle tested, there is no substitute for companies doing their own consumer research, developing their own insights, and targeting discrete groups of consumers through multiple channels.