"We are lucky that Steve Jobs ... doesn't care about China. If Apple were to spend the same effort on the Chinese consumer as we do, we would be in trouble."
Liu Chuanzhi, founder of PC maker Lenovo, said that of Apple in 2010, poking the company for treating China as an afterthought and foregoing what at the times was an almost stupidly self-evident growth opportunity.
Though Apple was relatively late to the Chinese market, it moved quickly to make inroads there. The world's most populous nation is now a key focus for the company, which is on track to have about 40 stores in greater China by mid-2016 — up from the 19 it operates there currently. And Apple's leadership is quite enthusiastic about it. As Apple CFO Luca Maestri said after an April earnings report that saw the Greater China region set a new sales record and surpass Europe in revenue to become the company's second biggest market behind the Americas, "The growth rate in China is significantly higher than most parts of the world. In the short term, we don't expect China to become bigger than the U.S. but over the long arc of time, one could certainly draw that conclusion."
One certainly could — particularly after considering some new metrics on traffic to Apple's now five-year-old online store in China.
Web analytics firm SimilarWeb analyzed a recent four-week period of global web traffic to Apple's online stores and found that China is second only to the United States in the number of visits (not unique visitors) it generates for Apple's online store. The U.S. was responsible for 34.86% of web traffic to store.apple.com between May 2 and May 29; China was responsible for 12.74% (via store.apple.com/cn/) — which is more than double the visits coming from the U.K.
Even more interesting is how visits originating from Apple's online store in China broke down across various product pages. During that same period in May, MacBooks (including Air and Pro), iPhones, and the Apple Watch drew the most interest, accounting for 20.2%, 15.8%, and 12.1% of visits respectively. iPads, accessories, and desktops drew the least, topping out at 5.9%, 4.3% and 3%. At first glance, it might seem odd that Apple notebooks draw more visits to the company's online store in China than iPhones. But there's likely additional traffic to more notebook pages as people explore custom configuration options for those machines.
Interestingly, 6.9% of web traffic to Apple's online store in China was directed at its checkout page — though there's no way to determine how much of it was linked to actual purchases.
SimilarWeb's analysis is based on a combination of directly measured web traffic, usage data from a massive panel of web users, crawlers, ISP and partnership data, and a direct measurement learning set. For this particular study, the firm measured traffic to store.apple.com routed via store.apple.com/cn. So there are some obvious caveats. The firm's data could potentially include customers who viewed and/or purchased products from Apple's store in China, but did so from another country. And, since it puts all visits to the store in product-specific buckets, Apple product lines with more models and customizations obviously get more web traffic.
So take this data for what it is: a quick peek at how the Chinese market is using Apple's online store, and supporting anecdotal evidence of the company's growing footprint there.
"I've never seen as many people coming into the middle class as they are in China," Apple CEO Tim Cook said this past April. "And that's where the bulk of our sales are going. And so we're really proud of the results there and continue to invest in the country."
An Apple spokesperson declined comment on SimilarWeb's data, saying "the company doesn't break out online store traffic."
John Paczkowski is the managing editor for BuzzFeed San Francisco. Formerly deputy managing editor for Re/code and AllThingsD, he's been covering the intersection of technology and culture since 1997.
Contact John Paczkowski at John.Paczkowski@buzzfeed.com.
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