Sohu.com, one of China's most popular Internet portals, is claiming its business-to-consumer e-commerce venture has succeeded and it plans to promote its virtual shopping mall from this month. As other portals branch into magazines or billboards, Sohu is making 15 per cent of its revenue from business-to-consumer e-commerce. But with margins of 15 per cent to 20 per cent, it has not profited from the venture. The platform, called Sohu Store (store.sohu.com), sells books, cosmetics, software, household electronics, toys and concert tickets. It also carries 2,000 film titles customers can rent or buy. Clients in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou can order the goods online, pay online or in person and have anything delivered for between five yuan (about HK$4.60) and 12 yuan per package. 'The Internet has made our lives more exciting. It should be able to help people shop,' said president and chief executive Charles Zhang. Company official Caroline Straathof said the e-store's promotion this month was aimed at the holiday buying, with Christmas now a shopping time for China and Lunar New Year, in February, likely to spark more spending. Sohu, which competes with Sina and Netease for the title of China's most popular portal, has made money on the venture since it opened in February. United States companies, such as online bookseller Amazon.com, laid the groundwork to make business-to-consumer e-commerce less risky and more attractive to China, Sohu officials said. Sohu advertising revenues were 68 per cent of its US$3.6 million third-quarter revenues, which were up from the first and second quarters. It expected to break even by the end of next year. Zhou Mao, assistant general manager at competitor Sina, said it made 85 per cent of its revenue from ads, although its year-old business-to-consumer e-commerce platform - which moves many of the same products as Sohu but excludes delivery - provided steady income stream. 'There is definitely a contribution from e-commerce, but to [claim] it has succeeded is hard to say,' Mr Zhou said. Peter Lovelock, of the Madeforchina consultancy in Beijing, said the diversification of revenue put Sohu ahead of Sina and Netease. However, Sohu still lost money overall and it might outperform competitors 'by default', because management changes had shaken Sina, and Netease had delisted from Nasdaq. Other portals have tried e-commerce because ad income has failed to produce profit. But some, such as 8848.net, have struggled with e-commerce because deliveries are tricky, credit-card payments are rare in China and purchase privacy is hard to guarantee. Many Chinese still enjoy shopping in person so they can compare prices, go out with family or friends and meet other shoppers. In July, however, the China Internet Network Information Centre found that 32 per cent of the country's Net population had shopped online. Sohu, which listed on Nasdaq last year, also earns revenue from its short-message platform and from helping companies build Web sites. About one-third of its overall revenues come from advertising. Most of the mainland's 33 million registered Net users know the five-year-old Sohu as a place to read news, chat, send e-mail and play games. It logged 129 million average daily page views in October. At a press conference, which doubled as a rally for Sohu's clients and staff members, officials said efforts to deliver on time, sell things that work, offer easy returns and keep prices 10 per cent lower than normal had kept business growing. Users of Sohu's other services, particularly those aged between 22 and 35, account for the majority of the customer base. Mr Zhang said: 'Sohu is at the forefront of making e-commerce successful in China. Sohu's experience shows the company has found solutions for commonly cited obstacles to the rapid expansion of e-commerce in China, such as the lack of infrastructure payment systems, reliable delivery channels and customer support services. 'Clearly, not all of the mainland's e-commerce Web sites have been successful. However, Sohu is leveraging its experience, dominant brand status and large consumer base to promote an e-commerce buying culture. 'Our marketing and acquisition costs are negligible, unlike some of our rivals who are forced to spend millions of dollars building their brands.'