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Online car sales fast catching on with mainland buyers
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When Yang Xiaotang, a fashion magazine editor living in Beijing, started her online shopping life five years ago, little did she imagine that one day she would buy a car with just few clicks on a website.

"It is an easy and simple mode for people who have access to computers and Internet, and also an indication that we are living in a modern society," said Yang who just ordered a Skoda Fabia online.

In recent years, with the popularization and development of the Internet, online shopping has become more and more popular, and now extends to various segments.

The fierce industry competition has forced international and domestic automakers to consider online sales as an alternative channel to boost profits.

"Online vehicle purchases are on the threshold of a boom," said He Xiaojin, marketing and public relations director of SAIC Group's passenger car operations.

SAIC Group has recently completed a marketing promotion initiative with Chinese portal sina.com's auto channel to sell its Roewe 550 sedan online.

"Customers can order and make payments through our online 4S (sales, service, spare parts and survey) store at sina.com and then get first priority for vehicle deliveries at the 4S store," said He. "We sold 55 Roewe sedans within one week."

"The online 4S store has complementary advantages. The Internet mode of sales is a new marketing strategy for automobile firms," said Su Yunong, subeditor of sina.com's auto channel.

Sina.com officially launched online 4S stores this January, and has joined hands with BYD Auto, FAW Mazda and SAIC Group to sell their F0, Mazda6 Ruiyi and Roewe 550 cars online.

"The online shops provide netizens comprehensive 3D car exhibition, video introduction, test drive report, and user feedback," said Zhang Lin, marketing director of sina.com's online 4S stores.

According to China Internet Network Information Center, by July 17, China's netizen population had reached 338 million, comprising largely of young people.

"They are the target consumers for automakers," said He. "They surf the net everyday and have collected most of the information from the Internet."

In its present form, most of the online 4S stores only accept orders, and not the full payment, "as Chinese people are still not too sure of spending such huge amounts in the virtual world", said Wang Xiaoxiang, director of Skoda's online platform Ebuy.

"But with the development of Internet security, people will soon change their mind. We are ready to provide online payment services," said Zhang of sina.com.

The Czech auto brand launched its online exhibition platform last July and started the online purchase option last month. "It's an attempt, but also a trend in the near future, as it is a win-win situation for both customers and automakers," said Wang. "For us, it's a new marketing model with low costs involved."

(China Daily September 15, 2009)

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