One of China's largest online retailers, JD.com, expects to triple its wine sales in 2016, as consumers harness the power of the internet to seek out bottles to try.

Inside story: Online wine sales in China

JD.com‘s head of wine business, Zhao Dabin, told DecanterChina.com in an exclusive interview that the retailer sold 400m yuan (US$61.5m) of wine direct to consumers in 2015. That figure is expected to triple in 2016, he said.

JD also hosts pages for individual merchants, acting as a gateway to a new generation of mainstream wine consumers in China – beyond the gift-giving between government officials that has been significantly curtailed by the present regime.

Wine sales through these JD.com-hosted, online ‘shopping malls’ for merchants are expected to hit 1.5bn yuan this year.

His comments tally with those from several wine importers and merchants in China, which are freeing up investment for e-commerce.

Total online retail sales of physical, consumer goods in China rose by 32% in 2015, to reach 3.2tn yuan, or US$492bn, according to Chinese government figures. Online sales of tobacco and liquor products increased by nearly 13% versus 2014, to 196bn yuan.

JD is seeking to compete with larger players in the market, such as Alibaba‘s Tmall and Taobao platforms.

In wine, JD’s Zhao sees a lot of potential. ‘Most of our wine consumers are still at entry level,’ he said. ‘Only 3% to 4% of our registered users buy wines at the moment. There’s still plenty of room to grow.’

Original interview by Sylvia Wu, editor of DecanterChina.com