The apparel industry is looking to China for much of its growth opportunities due to its growing consumer base and buying power. But a copy and paste approach to the products and marketing that have worked in other parts of the globe won’t necessarily translate there.
The China Consumer Trends for 2018 report from Mintel attempts to shed light on what this shopper values and how brands can position themselves to create meaningful (and lucrative) connections.
The authors outlined five trends driving consumer behavior, which they expect to continue to be strong going forward—with technology driving or enable many of them.
Dubbed “megabrain,” the first trend is toward consumers’ adoption of, and comfort level with, machine learning and AI.
With the rise of these innovations, consumer data has become the biggest asset for consumer products businesses, which are all racing to turn that information into personalized products and services.
This wealth of data is being used to create a growing number of “smart” products like Snail Sleeps’ high tech pillow for insomniacs. It’s also employed to inform brands’ product development and buying stages on what’s most likely to connect with shoppers. One example is Tencent’s Qzone social networking site, which allows the tech firm to analyze billions of photos to determine what’s in and what’s out among Chinese teens and tweens.
How do consumers feel about all of this data harvesting? Forty percent of Chinese adults, ages 20 to 49, told Mintel they’re on board if the products that can make their lives better. At the same time, 70 percent worry about how secure their information is online. In response, Mintel said if the products offer real benefits, they could outweigh the concerns. Further, the report states “transparency with regards to data collection and disposal may also create greater trust towards this technology and the companies and brands that leverage it.”
The second mega trend is a result of a need for escapism in a society that can feel constraining.
“Growing up in an environment that is obsessed with academic and social success, China’s younger generations, especially those who will soon graduate and enter the workforce, are concerned about their future and whether they can perform according to the high expectations of their surroundings,” Mintel said.
The “Pressure Play” trend, as it’s called, is a result of Chinese youth looking to technology to help them blow off some steam. For instance, online video games are a stress reliever for 63 percent of the 20- to 24-year-olds polled and 24 percent report they use it to make friends. The lion’s share (70 percent) say they rely on these games as a means for hanging out with their friends.
Brands who understand this perspective are finding ways to inject themselves into consumers’ virtual lives. Earlier this year, KFC added a Colonel Sanders character to the popular CrossFire game.
Other brands are seeking to mimic the playful and informal interactions these young people are finding online in the real world. For instance, Oreo teamed up with Mondelez and Tmall to create a music box that allows consumers to record sweet messages for their friends and family that can only be played back when one of its iconic cookies is inserted.
Mintel predicts consumers will continue to crave these fun outlets. “Looking ahead, whether it is alone, with friends or a group of strangers, playful, novel activities will enable young consumers to relieve stress and enhance their emotional wellbeing,” the report said.
Along with lighter spirits, Chinese consumers are seeking greener environments and healthier lives.
“The Balanced Life” trend demands that brands demonstrate that they’re both offering products that are beneficial and they’re being good stewards of the planet.
With a reported 1.6 million people dying each year in China due to air pollution, the concerns are understandable. And it might explain why 58 percent of survey respondents said they’d pay more for ethical brands. Further, the same number said it makes them happy to buy those goods.
This mindset is prompting companies like JD.com to launch recycling programs for their packaging and some restaurants to find creative ways to reduce food waste. Ultimately, Mintel says, we’ll see more efforts like this.
“Brands that offer products with health-promoting benefits, as well as display social responsibility and benefits to humanity, will prosper,” Mintel concludes. “Brands that tap into traditional native Chinese philosophy, remedies and forms of exercise in product formulation and marketing message will find success.”
With more money and access to ideas outside their towns, cities and country, Chinese consumers are aware of more cultures and options for how to live their lives. As a result, Mintel is recognizing a trend toward personal expression, it’s calling “Being Me.”
Mintel’s research has found that 41 percent of Chinese teens are seeking to live an unconventional life. The company says customer loyalty will be based on how well brands are able to help them express themselves. “This is creating new opportunities to engage with consumers— individually, through new technologies and by adapting products and services to a more individualistic mindset. By responding to consumer needs, brands also have the opportunity to forge closer relationships with their customers, and elicit greater loyalty from them,” according to the report.
In keeping with this rejection of societal conventions, Reebok China has signed an 80-year-old man, called “the country’s hottest grandpa,” as its latest brand ambassador, while skincare company SK-II’s marketing centers around breaking down preconceived notions of what women should achieve throughout their lives.
It’s the next phase of personalization, the report stated.
It’s no secret that Chinese consumers—like many others around the world—are tied to their phones. And the reliance on these mobile devices is giving rise to new ways of communicating and transacting business and their personal lives.
“Mobile devices and apps have now entered the space of formality and what would have once required face-to-face interaction or physical official documentation has now succumbed to the popularity of this multi- functional and portable technology,” report notes.
With this “All We Need is Mobile” trend, everything including handling legal actions, paying for goods and getting health consultations will occur on a mobile device.
Mintel notes, this mobile adoption can result in benefits for companies that understand how to use it. “Brands can leverage this fully-mobile society to cut costs and offer consumers more convenience and speed,” the report stated.