Modern Chinese Online Consumers: What Do They Want and How to Sell It to Them
There’s no more dynamic and appealing market in the world than China. So it’s not surprising that brands want a piece of the market and are eager to find a way into the hearts of 500 million active online shoppers. Multifunctional social media platforms, mobile payment apps, mini programs (apps by another name), non-stop shopping festivals, thousands of influencers (KOLs) promoting brands on their live streaming channels and instantly changing trends can overwhelm even experienced marketers, not to mention newcomers.
Who should I target? How can I sell my product to them? These and many other questions occupy marketing departments around the world. In an attempt to stay on trend and increase brand awareness, many Western companies have already merged their e-commerce and social media efforts. But establishing a social media presence doesn’t guarantee success in China. How much do you know about recent trends in social media? What do you know about the most popular content types? Do you know who Becky Li and Mr. Bags are? If none of this is ringing a bell, then it’s the right time to learn more about modern Chinese consumers, what they want and how to sell it to them.
Modern Chinese Millennials
Those born in the 90s and 2000s have reached the age when their consumption begins in earnest as they settle into careers and experience increasing purchasing power. This is also making them a key consumption force not only domestically, but globally.
This generation is very different from their parents. The One-child Policy, implemented in 1979, makes Chinese Millennials the most spoiled and demanding consumers in the world. As the vast majority of them were the only child, they got used to immediate gratification. The internet grew up along with them and they didn’t have siblings to play with so a lot their time was spent on the Internet. Technology and social media are an essential part of their life.
They’re also better educated than their parents. This, added to the fact that they grew up in a country that was healing its connections with the West and becoming a manufacturing centre, and you have a group that loves niche foreign brands as a means to stand out from the crowd. This group could be characterized as digital little emperors – well educated, tech-savvy and very familiar with the Western world.
With the development of technology and the growing e-commerce market, surveys show that Chinese consumers are gradually decreasing their purchases from brick-and-mortar stores and using e-commerce platforms more and more. This transition is spurring the continuing evolution of the online consumption ecosystem.
Traditional ads are not as effective as they used to be. Word of mouth marketing, via social media, is crucial in China. According to a recent Accenture report, around 90% of Chinese consumers belong to online communities where people with common interests share opinions about products. Social media now also serves as a search engine. Recommendations and shopping experiences that people want to talk about play increasingly important roles in the retail process. Recent statistics show that 64% of Chinese online consumers trust other consumers’ comments and recommendations. Because of this, and the fact that people in China spend a lot of time online, brands cooperate with key opinion leaders (KOLs) to promote their products and drive sales.
Emotional elements also play a vital role in this process. Chinese Millennials are conformists, even if they feel they aren’t. If a friend or a celebrity buys a special item, they want to emulate them without considering whether they really need the item at all and a recent survey indicated that 47 percent of consumers in China consider shopping a highly social activity.
The Role of KOLs
KOL campaigns successfully attract public attention to new brands and products and create positive word of mouth. Millennials have a strong bond and sense of trust in the KOLs that they follow. Many are the same age as them and really understand trends and what young people want.
In 2017, several KOL marketing campaigns became legendary. Popular fashion influencer Becky Li helped MINI Cooper sell 100 limited edition cars, each priced at 285,000 RMB, in just 5 minutes. Another popular luxury fashionista, Mr. Bags, sold 200 specially designed Tod’s Bags just in 24 hours. However, case studies of successful collaborations, such as these sometimes promote the delusional idea that any marketing campaign with a popular influencer will automatically be successful.
In fact, large scale KOL campaigns with a huge budget or small scale campaigns with micro-influencers might be very effective or have no impact. It’s important to figure out whether a KOL’s followers are your target audience. It’s also important to choose the right platform and media format and let influencers create content that features their unique voice and perspective. Chinese Millennials can easily tell the difference between an ad and authentic content meant to engage with an audience.
So, how can you get their attention and loyalty? Get their attention with savvy KOL campaigns and get their loyalty by providing unique, entertaining, fully-personalized shopping experiences that they can talk about on social media.
One of the greatest examples of a brand that’s been able to do this well is global beauty brand Sephora. In September 2018, they launched an omnichannel social-retailing mini program and opened a concept store, with augmented reality and virtual reality experiences, for customers to explore their products. They also hired popular Chinese singer and actor Z.Tao to promote the slogan “My Beauty Power.[sic] Turn it On”.
Modern Chinese consumers have grown up with the internet and gotten used to all the benefits of the virtual world. They never hesitate to spend more money for products and services they want. So the best way to understand what Chinese consumers want and to sell it to them is to approach them through online channels and give them an opportunity to be part of the retail process. Keeping an eye on fast-changing trends on social media is a must for the companies trying to succeed in China.
We’d love to see you in Prague at the “Marketing to China” M2C Conference, on January 29th& 30th, 2019. We’ll offer more useful tips and take your questions there.
About the Author
Ashley Galina Dudarenok is a China marketing expert, serial entrepreneur, professional speaker, bestselling author, vlogger, podcaster, media contributor and female entrepreneurship spokesperson.She is the founder of several China-focused businesses, including social media agency, alarice.com.hk and resources &training company, ChoZan.co. Ashley is a member of Alibaba’s Global Influencer Entourage and works directly with a Tencent core founder to conquer Western social media.