America could soon lose its crown as the most important place to shop 'til you drop. China by year-end will surpass the U.S. as the biggest retail market in the world, according to a forecast by eMarketer.
China's total retail sales in 2019 will jump 7.5 percent to $5.6 trillion, while U.S. sales will rise 3.3 percent to $5.5 trillion, the market research firm projected.
"In recent years, consumers in China have experienced rising incomes, catapulting millions into the new middle class," Monica Peart, senior forecasting director at eMarketer, said by email. "The result has been a marked rise in purchasing power and average spending per person."
American and Chinese consumers have somewhat different shopping habits, with ecommerce accounting for a far greater share of sales in China than in the U.S., according to eMarketer.
In China, online sales surged more than 30 percent this year to nearly $2 trillion, or some 35 percent of Chinese retail purchases. By the end of 2019, eMarketer said, China will account for 56 percent of all online retail sales globally.
Alibaba, China's version of Amazon, is the largest online retailer in the People's Republic with a 53.3 percent stake, though smaller players including social commerce platform Pinduoduo are catching up.
"Relative newcomers and multichannel retailers continue to take share from giants Alibaba and JD.com," Peart said. "The mature players set their sights on further international expansion. Smaller local players are finding their niche in the Chinese ecommerce market by integrating WeChat and using online-to-offline data to better target consumers."
China topped the U.S. in ecommerce sales in 2013. eMarketer expects online sales will account for nearly 11 percent of total sales in the U.S. this year.