Friday, April 1, 2011

Creative Chinese consumers are bossy status seekers

I´m off to Beijing in July so I thought I´d check out what´s going on there. TNS has identified "ten things you should know about China". Interesting stuff! Anything you wish to add?

1. China's urban and rural population.
With ubiquitous pictures of China's modern development it is easy to overlook the fact that more than 700 million Chinese live in rural areas where per capita income is a little over 700 dollars a year. This means that the products and services for these markets need to be different from those in large cities. However rapid urbanization is on the way. Over the coming years 10 million will move to urban areas every year, and half of China's population will live in cities and towns by 2015.

2. A grey population.
It is a common perception that Asian populations are a lot younger than in the West. Asians do make more babies, but lower standards of health care have, in the past, meant Asians die a lot younger. However this is changing. The Chinese market is no longer driven only by youth but also by the 'greying' consumer. While older people's incomes may be limited on an individual basis, collectively they offer a sizable target market with relatively unique physical and emotional needs. For example visits to supermarkets are not just for shopping but are also a leisure activity in China.

3. China is inventing its own product cycles rather than following the West.
The traditional purchasing model of moving up the product chain is not relevant in China. In other developing countries, like India, a consumer would start with a small car and buy a bigger car when they could afford to. In China consumers move from owning nothing to buying a big car. This is due to a rapid and recent acquisition of wealth. Manufacturers should not assume that the traditional product development cycle of the West will apply to China.

4. Proud to be Chinese but admire others.
In recent years there has been a huge shift in the global balance of power with China becoming a key player. The Chinese are fiercely proud of this. From spectacular economic growth to staging the Olympic Games - the list of achievements is long. The Chinese often feel that China provides more opportunities than the West but that the world does not understand its culture and values. Despite this strong and often overt patriotism the Chinese have been open to the influence of other countries. While rediscovering the power of their own feng shui, they also enjoy Korean opera, Japanese cartoons and practice Indian yoga.

5. Web 2.0.
It is well known that internet users are growing exponentially in China and this is likely to continue. However, what is less well understood is that internet adoption in China is not following the Western model but is establishing its own unique pattern. Western consumers regularly use the internet for e-mail and e-commerce; Chinese consumers, in the main, use it for information gathering, social networking and entertainment. Internet in China is a means of expression and interaction. The reliance on internet is further magnified in the context that many Chinese people are consuming products and services for the first time. For instance, 70% of car buyers are first time buyers and tend to use the internet for information on which to base a purchase decision.

6. Online commerce.
While as a proportion of total trade in China, online trade is still small, in absolute terms it's extremely large. Contrary to expectations, e-commerce is not just a big city phenomenon. Young consumers in smaller towns and cities often buy apparel and fashion products from websites such as Taobao as the physical distribution lags behind significantly when compared to the large metros.

7. Going green.
A recent report suggested that China has now overtaken the US as the largest energy consumer in the world. However, it also a fact that consumers in China are becoming more concerned about the environment and global warming. They are increasingly willing to pay a premium for environmentally-friendly products and services from companies that take their social responsibility seriously.

8. Chinese people are creative and love design.
After years of collective uniformity, Chinese consumers are eager to express their creativity. Design has always been important in certain categories, such as clothing and consumer electronics, but is now finding its way in almost every product category in China.

9. Chinese consumers are questioning and demanding.
While on one hand, Chinese consumers are widely embracing modern products and services, they are also becoming more assertive, even militant. One of the reasons is that branding has a limited history in China. As a result the attachment that the consumers have with a brand is often not very strong and they can be unforgiving about any lapse that they see in a product's performance.

10. Up trade and down trade.
It is not uncommon to see an office worker with a mobile phone that costs one month's salary to buy. Chinese consumers are willing to pay above the odds for two things - status and the protection of their children's health - while conversely using cheaper products in the privacy of their own homes.

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