Bustling marriage markets, extravagant weddings and honeymoons, love online – what springs to mind when you think of romance in China? China’s love and dating ‘market’ is a powerful entity with strong connections spanning areas as diverse as retail, fashion, jewellery, tourism and real estate. Scratch the surface of China’s relationship and love trends, and many valuable insights into Chinese consumer culture can be gleaned. So read on to learn how to win over both Chinese consumers’ hearts and minds!
Single’s Day – Guanggun Jie 光棍节
A novel concept to foreign observers, China’s fast looming Single’s Day is an annual one-day celebration of Chinese singletons. Guanggun光棍, which literally translates as “bare branches” is symbolised by the four number ones in the date of 11th of November. The date has been celebrated since the ‘90s, however in 2009 was commercialised by China’s online retail giant, Alibaba, with the launch of huge online shopping sales and discounts on the company’s online shopping site, Tmall.
The date was chosen to coincide with the consumer spending lull between National Day and Chinese New Year, and has now been trademarked by Alibaba. Since its creation Singles Day has grown to become the largest online shopping day in the world, with sales on Alibaba’s online platforms soaring from US$5.8 billion in 2013 to an enormous US$9.3 billion in 2014.
Alibaba’s massive success with Singles Day has not gone unnoticed by international retailers, many of whom have started to push similar promotions with the hope that some of Alibaba’s magic will rub off on them. For example, this year Amazon launched ‘Prime Day’–widely touted as a Singles Day spin-off, and on the domestic front, Jingdong has ambitious plans to compete with Alibaba by utilising data from WeChat.
The Singles Day phenomenon demonstrates the authoritative role that ecommerce plays in shaping Chinese consumer culture. However, it is also indicative of the intense scrutiny Chinese society places on love and relationships. Chinese consumers’ reactions to this pressure; ranging from kicking back and engaging in self-mockery, to rushing to the alter, are fascinating to watch.
Tradition vs. Modernity – chuantong 传统 vs. xiandaixing 现代性
Modern China is alive with contrasts, with interplay between tradition and modernity at the heart of consumer choices when it comes to love and dating. Nowhere is this contrast more apparent than with the Chinese wedding. China’s wedding industry is estimated to bring in revenues of $80billion in 2015, 40% more than in 2011. With 10 million couples getting hitched annually, and each couple spending an average of 76,141 RMB ($12,000) on their big day, China’s wedding market is huge business.
Traditional Chinese customs including receiving Hong Bao 红包 from guests, setting off celebratory firecrackers, and barring the groom from seeing his bride until he pays “bribes” to her family remain influential across China. Whilst Western customs – such as the bride wearing white, Western style wedding rings and the couple hiring a wedding planner – are steadily gaining in popularity. Uniquely Chinese twists on Western customs include couples investing vast amounts in lavish photoshoots prior to their wedding day (the wedding photography market in China is valued at a whopping $30 billion) are also popular. This hybridity of many Chinese weddings demonstrates the aptitude of Chinese consumers to localise foreign traditions, and create a uniquely Chinese consumer culture.
The commercial potential of the Chinese wedding was experienced first-hand by New Zealand’s tourism bureau when actress, Yao Chen, held her 2012 wedding ceremony in Queenstown. Yao Chen’s wedding generated a massive social media buzz in China (with an estimated 40 million posts and comments surrounding the ceremony on discussion forums, as well as 7,000 news articles). The wedding gave New Zealand previously unheard of exposure in the Chinese market, and demonstrates the authority Key Opinion Leaders exercise in influencing Chinese consumers’ decisions and aspirations.
Mobile Lover- shou ji lian ren 手机恋人
What do you get when you combine China’s lonely hearts with technology? One bizarre outcome is the craze of ‘Mobile Lovers’ – shou ji lian ren 手机恋人. The term refers to a service offered by China’s ecommerce giant Taobao where customers can pay 20RMB (US$3.26) per day to hire someone to act as a virtual “girlfriend” or “boyfriend”, who will send them romantic messages and texts, creating an illusion of intimacy.
More adventurous Taobao shoppers can choose to step it up a gear with the “rent-a-boyfriend” service, through which singletons can hire a real-life fake boyfriend (or occasionally girlfriend). The popularity of this service spikes around Chinese New Year, when many young Chinese make the annual return journey home. Fake boyfriends prove a useful distraction at family gatherings, satisfying pushy parents and warding off awkward questions about marriage and grandchildren.
China’s ‘Mobile Lovers’ and rentable boyfriends are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the vast online dating market in China. A market which has been predicted to hit a net-value of 10 billion RMB ($1.6 billion) by the end of 2016 – an increase of 17% from 2014. Strong contenders in the sector include Momo, perhaps China’s most influential dating app of the moment with an estimated 69 million users. Momo has evolved beyond a dating service to become an entire social network in its own right. Another one to watch is recent start-up Tantan – which uses a Tinder inspired swipe format – and has racked up an estimated 10 million users helped by a large venture capital.
Online dating and apps are an increasingly attractive means of finding romance for young Chinese consumers – who feel the pressure to wed before 30 in fear of being labeled “leftover” The digitalisation of dating is also well-suited to the Chinese market, with users able to connect with potential partners across different cities and geographies and seek a partner away from the prying eyes of their parents. In particular, due to China’s gender imbalance – a by-product of the one child policy and traditional preferences towards having a son – dating apps can be used by Chinese men in rural areas to find women in cities or other provinces. With roughly 122 men born for every 100 women, and predictions that by 2020 there will be 35 million more men than women in China, the appetite for online dating only looks set to grow.