What the world’s most avid shoppers are buying online

From computer software to travel-related services and products, the preferences of Asia's online shoppers are changing rapidly, a survey of 30,000 consumers by marketing research firm Nielsen showed.

Asians are the most active online shoppers globally, according to the study; clothing, flight tickets and hotel bookings are their most popular purchases. This is compared to 2012, when mobile phones and computer and gaming software were the most popular purchases.

Singaporeans topped the list of consumers purchasing travel-related products and services globally; 70 percent plan to book flight tickets or hotel reservations online within the next 6 months. Malaysia ranked second globally for booking tours and hotel reservations online, and third for booking airline tickets, subsets of travel-related products and services.

"The travel industry is one of the more advanced sectors when it comes to e-commerce platforms," wrote Connie Cheng, Executive Director, Shopper in Southeast Asia, North Asia and Pacific at Nielsen in an email to CNBC. "Within Southeast Asia, Singaporeans and Malaysians are among the most inclined to channel their spare cash toward holidays."

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John Lamb | Digital Vision | Getty Images


Non-durable goods are gaining traction in Asia's e-commerce space, with China and South Korea leading the way. Their intent to purchase cosmetics and groceries online exceeds the global average by 20 percentage points each.

Baby-related products are also popular online purchases in China, with diapers and infant formula constituting more than half of such purchases.

"The lightning-fast pace of change in the digital landscape has ushered in a consumer mindset that is both adventurous and exploratory," wrote John Burbank, president of Strategic Initiatives at Nielsen in a note. "Consumers everywhere want a good product at a good price and the seemingly limitless options available in a virtual environment provide new opportunities."

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PCs still king

Personal computers remain the preferred platform for Asia's online shoppers except in Thailand where mobile phones are preferred.

Tablet usage is also gaining traction, with above-average usage for online purchases in all Southeast Asia markets except Singapore.

"Asia is the furthest down the e-commerce maturity curve," said Nielsen's Burbank. "In Asia-Pacific, tech-savvy consumers have already embraced the convenience of online shopping. Attracting new buyers using mobile could be an accelerator in the developing markets as it provides greater access to more people faster."

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Asia's e-commerce market is expected to hit $1.47 trillion by year-end, up 20 percent from 2013, according to data from eMarketer. But credit card security could become an obstacle for growth, especially in Southeast Asia.

Concerns about providing credit card information run high in Asia; five of the six Southeast Asian markets Nielsen surveyed ranked above the global average on this front. Filipinos are the most cautious, with 67 percent indicating a lack of trust with online payment, followed by Thais (62 percent), Indonesians (60 percent), Vietnamese (55 percent) and Malaysians (52 percent). Globally, the average is 49 percent.

"Concern around providing credit card information online remains a barrier to purchase, however, and providing reassurances around online payment security is essential for online retailers in order to gain the trust of consumers," notes Cheng.