In 1990, Greater China’s metro systems covered just three cities. By 2020, over 40 cities will sport modern, efficient underground commuter networks. In that same three decades, Beijing has gone from a couple of lines and Shanghai from nothing, to the two largest and busiest networks in the world.
Anyone who has immersed themselves in the swarms of China’s metro systems will have noted that subways are playing their part in fuelling the mass movement of consumers. Even with barely any room to move, heads are fixed on smartphones – be it social media, ecommerce, playing games or watching video, all consciously and subconsciously feeding China’s consumption machine. Yet more importantly, the zealous expansion of China’s subways represents something much bigger. It signifies the rapid rate of change and progress altering Chinese consumers’ cities and as a result, their residents’ lifestyles, behaviour and expectations.
While [often highly indebted] local governments are funding the expansion of subway networks, private enterprise is driving another transport phenomena that makes the metro expansions look slow. By Q1 this year China’s bike loan schemes accounted for more trips than all on-demand transport in North America, Europe, Middle East, Africa and India combined with their Ubers, Lyfts, Olas, etc. Two thirds of China’s bike-loan users now ride three or more times a week.
China had just a few small single-city bike loan schemes until last year, when funding allowed them to expand nationwide and internationally. The rest is history. Ofo alone is said to have 20 million registered users and 6 million yellow bikes in 100 cities. Mobike claims to be even larger. And another 30 rivals vie for market share in yet another example of how spoilt for choice Chinese consumers are, and how quickly they embrace new trends.
No one saw it coming. Brands looking to build long-term strategies for China should keep that in mind. Everything from the types of holidays Chinese consumers choose, to the food they buy, where their health budgets go, to their preference for cars is changing as quickly as the adoption of new transport options. Add that to the regular stream of new regulations and sales channels and a China strategy is hard to pin down.
It is not unusual for foreign brands to want to build 5 or 10-year plans for China. While it is important to have a long-term focus in China, rigid plans will very quickly become irrelevant. Things that have taken 5-10 years to evolve in some markets can take 12-18 months in China.
Chinese entrepreneurs have been brought up in a constantly changing environment and many run their businesses with the same expectation, ensuring they maintain the agility to adopt new initiatives in weeks that bureaucratic corporations can take years to do. Anyone in the China market is competing against such companies, meaning staying ahead of the trends is imperative. Agencies like China Skinny can assist with just that. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.