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If you were peddling your products in Los Angeles and Chicago, there’s a good chance that you’d need to tweak the marketing strategy to account for differing lifestyles, varying tastes, disparate climates, different sales channels and varied cultural and emotional needs. In China, variations between cities are typically even greater. Many Chinese cities’ characteristics have been evolving since long before Columbus was leading expeditions to the Americas. These historic differences have helped shape regionalised consumer behaviour. More recent Beijing policies have further moulded differing consumer profiles. For example, residents in first tier cities have been able to travel abroad with more flexibility for longer than their lower tier peers, impacting their sophistication and maturity when travelling abroad, and their exposure to foreign lifestyles and products.

There’s no city that better illustrates the diversity of China’s megalopolis’ than the boomtown of Chengdu in China’s southwest. On the surface, it could be any Mainland city; thousands of grey apartment blocks sprawled across a flat grid of streets, dotted with adventurous modern commercial towers and restored ancient constructions, dissected by a winding river and heaving highways, obscured by a soupy smog more days that it isn’t. But filling those towers are a population arguably more independently-minded than consumers in other parts of China – with personalities as spirited as the peppers that are such as big part of the local Sichuan cuisine.

Chengdu is located some distance from Beijing’s policy makers. The mountains that encircle the city have provided a natural barrier for traders, invaders and legislators for centuries, isolating the city from the outside influences that have impacted other Chinese cities. Chengdu’s fertile soil and natural resources have seen it stay isolated for much of its history, allowing it to stay largely self-sufficient, with an attitude that’s both “mind your own business” and “anything goes.”

With the wealthy, sophisticated city of 16 million people increasingly on brand’s radars, China Skinny has delivered a number of research projects that include the Chengdu market. Their tastes and preferences are often the most disparate from other consumers in other cities we have investigated. One of our recent studies into the customer journeys of consumers in six mainland cities found the research and sales channels used in Chendgu were by far the most distinct.

Chengdu’s relatively lower rents have lured young, independently-minded migrants from across China, cultivating a hip, progressive culture that’s spawned San Francisco-style cafes filled with millennials. The many miles and mountains between Chengdu and Beijing has seen regressive policies about homosexuality hold less clout in the city, which has become a haven for the LGBT community, whose members are drawn to the relaxed, open vibe. Chengdu was voted the gay capital of China in a recent poll by gay dating app Blued.

Beyond sexual liberation, Chongqing also leads China for many genres of music, its underground scene and youth culture. Much of China’s Hiphop and Trap has spawned from the city, with many of China’s biggest hiphop hits dispersed with the Sichuan dialect.

For brands hoping to connect with independently-minded consumers in the city, you’d by wise to ensure that your product, messaging, channels, KOLs and most importantly, your brand’s purpose, are resonant with the target market in the city because just transposing a successful strategy from Shanghai or Beijing won’t always work.

For most brands in China, it can be impractical to have an independent marketing strategy for each target city, however there can be consistent elements by city tier and/or regional city clusters which can be incorporated to make marketing more targeted and resonant. We’ve found that understanding the consumers in a specific city usually highlights some quick wins that can make your brand and product connect with local consumers and break through the clutter. China Skinny has a lot of knowledge and experience to help you with that. We hope you enjoy this week’s Skinny.

Consumers, Chinese Consumers

Urbanization Rate to Reach 70% by 2035: Study: One billion Chinese people, or over 70% of residents, will live and work in cities by 2035 according to a report published by the National Academy of Economic Strategy. Hangzhou, Changsha, Chengdu and Xi’an had the highest rate of talent inflow between Q4 2016-Q1 2018. The per capita GDP in 12 Chinese cities surpassed $20,000 in 2018. China’s urbanisation rate was 58.5% at the start of 2018.

Chengdu Is Tapping Into China’s $300 Billion Rainbow Economy: Chengdu, or “Gaydu,” the city of 16 million best known internationally for its pandas, was voted the gay capital of China in a recent poll by gay dating app Blued. Although China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997 and removed it from an official list of mental disorders in 2001, gay, lesbian, and transsexual individuals still live in a grey area. There’s no law against being LGBT, but no rules protect against discrimination, either. China doesn’t recognize gay marriage and bans gay imagery in mainstream media. Just 5% of China’s LGBT population live their diversity openly according to the UN. Businesses have been carefully tapping into the $300 billion opportunity.

Is the Chengdu Music Scene Being Boiled Alive?: Yet all isn’t rosy in the laidback, chill town of Chengdu. As of March 2019, permits were technically compulsory for all ticketed live performances in Chengdu, which require artists to submit their ID, lyrics, recordings, setlist and general description of the show content. In actual fact, parties, gigs and festivals are actually growing in number rather than diminishing and the underground scene continues to thrive in new and innovative ways.

The Rise of Trap Music in China (Chengdu): 18 minute vid: The most thriving Trap scene in China isn’t in Shanghai or Beijing, but Chengdu and it is now spreading. Here’s a short video of one of Sichuan’s most popular Trap bands Higher Brothers, comparing their concert in Atlanta with one in Shanghai.

China’s Unmanned Store Boom Ends as Quickly as it Began: Across China, shops were considered the future of retail as recently as two years ago, have been shutting their doors for good. Alibaba launched the first unmanned store in 2017, and by the end of the year an estimated 200 convenience stores had sprouted up around the country. The difficulty of selling fresh groceries in stores without staff was one major obstacle, with boxed lunches, ready-made fresh meals, desserts and other products with limited shelf lives making up a large share of convenience store sales and a 40-50% margin, versus 25% for processed food.

Online: Digital China

Consumers “Trading Up” and Seeking Quality Drives Record-Breaking 6.18: Includes Infographic. JD sold $29.2 billion worth of merchandise for the 18-day shopping festival. Transaction volume growth was twice as high in lower tier cities than the overall growth. 91% of orders coming from JD fulfilment centres were delivered same-or next-day. JD’s smart customer service robot fielded more than 32 million inquiries, solved 90% of them. Some big numbers: 350 million cartons of milk sold, 150% increase in tampons sold, 6,700 tons of imported fresh food sold. Cosmetic medicine grew 572%, and sales of male beauty products saw a 522% increase within the first hour.

Alibaba’s Ecosystem Drives the Largest-Ever 6.18 Campaign: 200,000 brands took part in Alibaba’s 6.18 Mid-Year Shopping Festival, with 110 brands generating gross merchandise of more than ¥100 million ($14.6 million) for the 18-day campaign. Flash sales channel, Juhuasuan, added over 300 million new consumers, with more than 180 products topping ¥10 million ($1.5 million) and 4,700 breaking ¥1 million ($146K). 48% of newly-launched products were bought by consumers outside of first- and second-tier cities. Cross border sales from 3rd and 4th tier cities grew 153% from a year before. The top-5 cross border countries were Japan, US (consumers still love their goods), South Korea, Australia and Germany. Livestreaming promotions grew 120% from the previous year. During the campaign more than 100 brands – including L’Oréal, Clé de Peau Beauté, Emporio Armani, Crocs, Godiva and Budweiser – saw sales surpass last year’s 11.11.

Home Appliance Manufacturer Galanz Accuses Tmall of ‘Playing Dirty,’ Burying Search Results: One of China’s leading microwave makers, Galanz has accused Alibaba of blocking traffic to its products and demanding it to choose between its platform and the up-and-coming rival Pinduoduo, in what is describes as “forced exclusivity”. According to Galanz, its inventory of 200,000 home appliances was not visible on the first page of Tmall’s search results ahead of the 618 shopping festival. Alibaba began asking shop owners to choose between Tmall or rival e-commerce platform JD as far back as 2012 which is against Chinese law.

Premium Food & Beverage

Costco Set to Open First China Store: Five years after setting up an online store in China, Costco is set to open its first brick-and-mortar store in the country in Shanghai’s Minhang district at the end of August. Costco will offer two types of memberships – one for families and the other for corporations, with both having an annual price of ¥299 ($43).

JD.com Inks Deal to Handle Cross-Border Logistics for Carrefour: French retailer Carrefour is to offer cross-border logistics services. As part of the deal, Carrefour will set up a store on JD’s international marketplace to sell imported goods, following last year’s opening of a store which sells the retailer’s domestic goods on the platform. JD will import the goods and arrange customs clearance, sorting, and distribution for Carrefour. Interesting, the news may be short lived with Alibaba’s Suning acquiring 80% of Carrefour’s China unit for $698 million. Similarly, Japanese department store chain Takashimaya will close its Shanghai store and halt its operations in China.

China’s Dairy War Threatens to Engulf 2022 Winter Olympics: Yili and Mengniu are fierce rivals in China’s $62 billion dairy products market and things just got more heated with Yili warning it may pull out of sponsoring the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics due to Mengniu allegedly infringing its status as the sole sponsor of dairy products at the games. Mengmiu slipped in as “joint beverage global partner” partnering with Coca Cola through its parent company Cofco. Yili is China’s dairy market leader holding a 23.6% share, with Mengniu close behind on 22.4%.

Overseas Chinese Tourists

Australia Nets US$8.2 billion from Chinese Tourism: China remained Australia’s leading tourism market, with the number of visitors from the country growing 2.9% to 1.3 million in the year ending March 2019. Their expenditure grew 10% to A$12 billion ($8.2 billion), representing an additional A$1.1 billion ($757 million) for the year, and 27% of total tourism expenditure.

Alipay Launches Cab-Hailing Integration Mini-Program: Alipay has launched a new mini-program which integrates online cab-hailing services from five overseas platforms, in 33 cities in 10 countries including the UK, the United States, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, UAE, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Philippines. It plans to expand to 20 countries and regions by 2020. The app will mean Chinese tourists don’t need to download a different app and can pay with their Alipay account.

Wellbeing & Healthy

Over a Third of China’s Babies are Delivered Via C-Section – the National Health Commission Wants to Change That: 36.7% of women in China deliver babies by caesarean, although in some urban and wealthier regions in China, such as Shanghai, rates are as a high as 68%. The international healthcare community considers rates of 10-15% to be the ideal rate. Anxiety about giving birth and fear of pain are the main reasons for nonmedical caesarean deliveries, especially considering that only a minority of Chinese women are given any form of pain relief during labour. Beijing hopes to reduce this rate by including stricter regulation of caesarean section operations and the provision of more support and pain relief for labouring women, as well as a higher hospital income for natural births.

Chinese sport Sport

UEFA Gets Digital Assist From Alipay to Grow China Fan Base: Alipay, the “digital lifestyle and payments platform” has signed a deal with the Union of European Football Associations, launching a “lifestyle account” on the Alipay mobile app to connect Chinese fans with the latest news about European soccer, as well as a mini-program within the app that fans could use to buy tickets to the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament – the first time UEFA will allow a digital ticketing channel outside of UEFA.com.

Autos and Auto

Harley-Davidson Strikes Deal to Build Smaller Bike in China: Harley-Davidson Inc will partner with China’s Qianjiang Motorcycle Co to build a new smaller motorcycle than its trademark “big hogs”. The new bike will be notably cheaper than Harley’s existing range and be 338cc, one of the smallest in the company’s 116-year old history. Its existing bikes are typically 601cc or more. Harley’s sales in China grew 27% in 2018.

It doesn’t have the sexiness of livestreaming, or the sizzle of Singles’ Day, but one of the most important components of China’s ecommerce and New Retail boom is the thankless task of making it all happen behind the scenes. China’s logistics infrastructure is experiencing some of the biggest, yet behind-the-scenes, changes in the country’s retail industry. Chinese logistics are evolving from fragmented and rudimentary systems, to consolidated ones driven by the internet-connected smart devices, robots and real-time end-to-end tracking and traceability.

Chinese consumer expectations around delivery have become some of the highest in the world. Many purchases are expected to be delivered in less than 30 minutes. And for other goods, if they don’t arrive within 1-2 days, most consumers will go somewhere else, with the exception of some customized products and goods coming from afar. Yet even expectations for delivery times for cross border products are increasingly short, with bonded warehouses bringing them closer to the consumer.

1.88 billion parcels were delivered just in the 10 days starting on Double-11 (Singles’ Day) last year. This gives China the scale to invest in technology and systems. The increase in New Retail and social commerce is driving both shopping and delivery to become a 24/7 business. Investment is also being propelled by lower tier cities, whose logistics infrastructure is behind high tier cities. Tier-3 cities and lower accounted for more than 70% of the growth of Alibaba’s 102 million new customers over the last 12-months, in addition to apps such as Pinduoduo and WeChat which are driving online shopping in the hinterland. The focus is also being driven by fast growth ecommerce categories like food and beverage delivery, which requires improvements in areas such as cold chain.

Logistics is big business in China. In 2017, SF Express IPOed to become the Shenzhen Stock Exchange’s most valuable company, while pushing founder Wang Wei’s net worth up to $16 billion. Alibaba’s partner logistics company Cainiao – which accounts for one in every 10 packages sold on Taobao and Tmall – was valued at ¥100 billion ($14.5 billion) a year ago, and like all of China’s logistics giants, is investing in exciting advancements.

Cainiao is evolving from just digitally managing the flow of parcels through e-shipping labels, to digitalising all components of the logistics value chain. This will see 100 million smart devices connected to its IoT (Internet of Things) technologies in three years, including partners such as warehouses, warehouse pickers, equipment, transportation vehicles, robots and management systems. It will also connect the anticipated 100,000 pick up stations such as schools and residential complexes, convenience stores and China’s ubiquitous fruit shops to cut down last-mile delivery costs. To complement this, Ciaoniao will enhance and leverage its Guoguo app which it hopes to serve consumers more than a billion times a year by 2022.

A digitalised end-to-end supply chain enables much more transparency and accountability, which is ever-important for China’s untrusting consumers. Such transparency is a key selling point allowing 17.5° oranges to sell for twice the price of similar brands of oranges that originate from the same region for example.

We expect domestic players’ investment, connections and local know-how will continue to see the Chinese logistics brands dominate the China market, and likely expand beyond its borders utilising the developing systems and technology. Foreign players won’t be helped by the recent trade war-related scandal which saw Huawei packages ‘misrouted’ in China by Fedex, whether proven to be intentional or not.

For brands selling in China, ensure you are dialled into the optimal logistics providers and their systems to guarantee customers will have the best possible experience. It will be difficult to compete otherwise. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

WeChat now boasts 1.1 billion active users, with most being in China. That’s great news for Tencent who have prodigious insights into the online, offline and commerce behaviour of a large swath of Chinese consumers. Yet its almost-100% saturation of China’s online population also presents challenges to Tencent, who is having to shift its strategy from growth by acquisition to extending the utility of WeChat and its data. To make things tougher, AI-driven competitors such as Douyin are cannibalising the screen time users spend on WeChat through services that are easier to use and more entertaining.

Tencent isn’t sitting still. It’s made some structural shifts in its strategy such as seeking to entrench itself in more industry-related applications from health services to public transport, and this month announced it joined the race for auto intelligence, aiming to provide car makers networking services, algorithms for autonomous vehicles, and location-based services.

Nevertheless, WeChat remains committed to its bread-and-butter (or rice-and-soy) consumer base, evolving with services such as authentic story telling, Official Account live streaming and new Little Red Bookesque-social commerce features – all enriching the consumer experience and presenting exciting opportunities for brands.

For many brands, finding success with WeChat isn’t just about strapping on new services as they are launched, but changing the structural approach to how they view WeChat – much like Tencent has done. The good old approach of pushing out content week in-week out on WeChat rarely works these days. More than half of WeChat Official Accounts are losing followers and the open rate of WeChat articles dropped from 17% to 6% between November 2015 and August 2018 according to social media management platform KAWO.

To increase engagement on WeChat, more brands would be wise to view the platform less as a one-to-many broadcast tool and more as a personalised and targeted interface to connect with and understand the target market. CRM capabilities on WeChat allow brands to gather information about their fanbase far beyond the standard name, avatar, gender and location that come by default. WeChat’s expanding suite of services and subsequent touch points allow brands to track individual’s preferences, behaviour and propensity to engage with different things. This data can be complementary to other insights that can be tracked such as how the user followed the WeChat account, whether through a specific article, promotion, at an offline event, store or scanning a QR code on packaging.

WeChat also lends itself to engaging initiatives such as chatbots, which offer brands a form of simple AI allowing them to connect with their customers’ personal needs and have related dialogue – over and above the usual WeChat messaging quotas – directing them to relevant content and services. Data from these interactions can feed into the CRM system to provide a view into consumer needs that can be coupled with other insights to build truly meaningful consumer-led propositions.

Richer CRM data allows brands to have more targeted, localised and personalised communications over WeChat. Interactions with consumers can be much more resonant based on whether the consumer has a family or is single, lives in Shanghai or Shenyang, if they like lace or leather or the time of the day they are most responsive. In a market as competitive and cluttered as China, particularly with more brands engaging with AI for targeted and personalised interactions, it is fast becoming a minimum requirement to continue to grow engagement. China Skinny can assist to develop your strategy for this.

For our Shanghai-based readers, China Skinny’s Andrew Atkinson will be presenting the Heath Ingredients & Food Ingredients Asia event next Wednesday 19 June discussing headline trends influencing consumer needs across China’s health food categories. More information here. Please let us know if you’ll be there. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

Remember when you’d see the big tricycles stacked metres high with polystyrene, rubbish and furniture cruising the streets? Or the vividly-coloured Facekinis poolside or on the beach? Or how about the infants with split pants on a cold Beijing day? They were all China novelties that have largely disappeared from the bigger cities. Yet with each disappearing quirk, a new curiosity has arisen to ensure that there is never a dull day in China.

One area that has recently taken on a life of its own is beauty. Fashion, haircuts and even hair colours are becoming more varied and diverse daily. It is not uncommon to see young Chinese spending 40 minutes on a photo editing app polishing their latest selfie, or a young man in a public place diligently applying mascara – not just representing the exponential rise of male makeup, but also that younger Chinese are confidently challenging traditional social norms to be what they want to be, unfazed by state media’s direction on how to behave.

The pursuit of beauty has been important since ancient times in China. In the Tang Dynasty, makeup became a part of everyday culture, with women applying foundation powder, blusher and a dusting of light yellow powder. Bluish black eyebrows, lipstick, painted on dimples and ornamental forehead flourishes were also added. Whilst beauty is a little less novel than it was 11-14 hundred years ago, it is as relevant as ever for Chinese consumers and something that many of us should take note.

China Skinny has compiled numerous pieces of research asking consumers how they would spend extra money if they received it. Beauty always scores highly, often the top way young millennials would spend the windfall. Many Chinese will directly correlate the way they look with their chances of success – in both their personal and professional life.

One of the most poignant illustrations of the importance of beauty in China is the soaring segment of cosmetic surgery. Unlike in the West where patients are older when looking to have work done – more than 75% are over 35 in the US – 54% of Chinese going under the knife are under 28. This is fuelling an industry expected to be worth ¥360 billion ($52 billion) by 2023. Last month’s IPO of plastic surgery app So-Young soared 44% on its first day of trading and has settled to a value of around $1.5 billion. Almost 2 million users are on the app monthly, 79% more than a year ago.

In addition to the obvious beneficiaries of plastic surgery, cosmetics and fashion, many other categories are touched by China’s beauty obsession. For example, health supplement purchasers are often motivated by beauty benefits – even with target markets you may not expect like the 20-year olds buying anti-aging pills. Categories such as food and beverage are heavily influenced by the quest for beauty, with an increase in healthy food demand resulting from how they can improve appearances such as skin and hair. The fast-growing fitness industry is also heavily swayed by the aesthetic outcomes. The good news is that it isn’t just the Pechoins, L’Oreals and J&Js of the world who stand to benefit, with the majority of Chinese consumers showing interest in niche beauty brands.

The free-spending young Chinese in particular often strive to stand out amongst the masses, and looking good is considered a key component of this. When brands are communicating to their target markets, they should bear this in mind wherever plausible. China Skinny can help determine if and how this all fits for your products or services.

In other news, China Skinny has moved its Shanghai HQ to a bigger and better office. We’re still in central Jing’An District, a block from our our office on Jiangning Road. We love visitors, so pop by any time for a coffee, tea or just to say ni hao. You’ll find our address here. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

One of the giveaways of a newbie to China is the bafflement about being unable to access Google, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram and Twitter – unless they’re chewing through their data roaming quotas or have planned ahead with a VPN. It quickly becomes apparent that China’s digital ecosystem is unlike anywhere else in the world.

Those same newbies are likely to try and make sense of it all by making direct comparisons of Amazon with Alibaba, Facebook with WeChat and Twitter with Weibo. Yet the Chinese platforms aren’t just different by appearance and namesake; their features and, more importantly, the purpose they serve in the consumer journey are often quite disparate from platforms in the West. In many cases, they are functionally more advanced (often by years) than overseas apps, which has seen companies like Apple, Amazon and Facebook replicating features from Chinese apps.

Many brands understand these differences and focus on localising tactical campaigns to take advantage of Chinese platforms’ rich and engaging features online and offline. Yet a number still miss the bigger picture of how China’s tech giants differ from the West: their touch points with consumers are far deeper, wider reaching and offline than those overseas.

One of the important growth strategies executed by China’s tech companies has been to expand beyond their core industries, even if links seem tenuous to outsiders. We saw this in 2014 when Alibaba began purchasing brick & mortar stores and then again in 2018 with their investment in screen advertising.

There are a number of reasons why this type of expansion has happened much more in China than other countries: 1. In most countries when companies get too large and dominant, they are usually forced to split. In China there is barely a whiff of this; 2. Most of China’s bigger companies with real money to invest are tech firms and State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). As SOEs are comparatively more conservative, there is less competition for big tech companies when making major acquisitions; 3. Traditional channels are less mature and more fragmented in China, enabling lower acquisition costs for market leaders and much more scope for disrupting tech giants to break in; 4. Accumulation of user data is far more liberal in China, providing significant scope for tech companies who already have the data. This enables them to utilise data synergies across new acquisitions, which can help justify paying a higher price for them; and 5. Consumers are much more open the commercial use of their data and appreciate the convenience it brings.

The approach hasn’t just been adopted by China’s famous tech giants though. We’ve also seen lesser-known tech companies utilising their presence, channels and data from their category. For example, mid-sized travel portal Tuniu has tapped into the nuptials industry, launching a marketplace just for wedding photography.

What does this mean for brands? Brands should understand just where Alibaba, Tencent, ByteDance, Meituan and other niche platforms are playing, even if they don’t appear to have an obvious connection with their industry. Awareness of their reach and subsequent opportunities can help determine how best to partner with and leverage them. Even the biggest brands in China rarely attempt to approach the market alone and will buddy up with one or more of the tech giants. Similar to the many brands who have co-located marketing staff close to Walmart or Carrefour in the West, close proximity to China’s tech leaders is likely to be an increasingly common strategy in China. Contact China Skinny to assist you in identifying these opportunities and recommending how best to leverage them. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

Food exports to China have been growing for some years now. Chinese consumers are known to pay a premium for foreign food and beverage as it is perceived to be safer and healthier, more prestigious and having interesting, unique varieties to feed their inherent curiosity. Yet one of the big drivers for shipping food from afar is that in many cases, they are actually cheaper and meet a demand that local produce can’t serve.

Although China has long been known for low wages and exporting cheaply produced food, for many food categories, China finds itself unable to supply enough food at a quality and price acceptable to Chinese consumers. The well-cited stat that China has to feed over 20% of the world’s population with just 7% of its farmland means this shortage will be around for some time yet.

With China’s population becoming wealthier and eating more as a result (calorie intakes have more than doubled in the last 50 years on average) and arable land eroding due to urbanisation, natural disasters and pollution, China is having a hard time keeping up with supplies. In addition, much of China’s working population have left rural areas for the bright lights of the city, and all of its drones, robots and AI have been unable to fill the farm worker gap. The majority of China’s farms are tiny and lack the ability to produce as cheaply and efficiently as in other countries, and even many of its larger scale operations cost more than abroad. For example, the US produces pigs 20% cheaper per kilo than even China’s new, factory-scale hog farms.  Filling a bottle of wine in Ningxia Province can be as much as three times more expensive as South Australia, with the need to bury vines during the harsh winter and high costs of bringing experts into the Chinese hinterland.

Food production costs continue to soar in China, contributing to food prices growing 6.1% in the past year according to the Government’s official consumer price index. To note a few, prices for fresh vegetables jumped 17.4% and pork prices grew 14.4% – the most since mid-2016.

The domestic price increases are making imported alternatives more alluring and giving some rosy trade figures – imported fruit purchases grew by 36% last year and beef imports have more than doubled since 2016 for example. Unfortunately the lion’s share of those imports are commodities, which are much more vulnerable to price variations.

The benefits of well branded food and beverages is nothing new – they can command a higher premium and are less susceptible to fluctuations in commodity prices and new lower-cost producing markets coming on board such as Latin America, Southern Asia and Africa. But having well-branded food products has become increasingly important as producers face mysterious delays and inexplicable rejections for food imports into China due to geopolitical tensions, and of course, increasing tariffs or lowering tariffs for competing exporters. In most cases, the hold ups at the border are commodities rather than branded products. With tariffs, well-branded products will always fare better as consumers are much less price sensitive to a brand they like than a no-name product.

Food producers don’t have to be one or the other. Selling commodities often provides cashflow that can be used to invest in building a brand. But to reduce exposure in these increasingly uncertain times, the advantages of branded products have never been more pronounced. Even if you already have branded products, it’s likely you could make them more resonant with consumers from optimised branding, messaging and other communications, being in the right channels and integrating those channels, having more appropriate packaging and formats and even loyalty programmes. China Skinny can assist you with these. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

“After 5,000 years of trials and tribulations, what kind of battle have the Chinese not been through?” asks the anchor on state broadcaster CCTV, referring to the escalating the trade war. The clip received more than 3.3 billion views. “Negotiate— we can! Fight— bring it on! Bully us— YOU WISH!” says the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper the People’s Daily.

Following the breakdown of trade negotiations between the US and China in Washington on Friday, and new tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese imports, Chinese propaganda has ramped up. Compared to other geopolitical disputes, China’s state run media had been relatively passive in the 310 days since the trade war began. Yet based on recent state media sentiment, China’s faith in forging an amicable deal appears to be thinning.

Wall Street bankers, American farmers and other US exporters will be deflated following Friday’s breakdown. In addition, many foreign brands in China are likely to feel some impact.

Chinese Brands Day – which coincidently also fell on Friday – was the catalyst for a number of reports highlighting Chinese consumers’ growing preference for homegrown brands. JD.com found the sales value of Chinese brands grew 8% faster than foreign brands last year with volume growing 14% faster. Categories that have traditionally been dominated by foreign brands, such as Mum & Baby, saw strong growth from domestic competitors.

Rising Chinese nationalism is not a new trend, we’ve being seeing signs of this over the past six-or-so years, but it is accelerating with every bit of news about trade wars and Huawei-exec arrests. As powerful and impressive as China is, consumers can still be hyper-sensitive to anything that looks to be putting their country and people in a bad light.

Rising nationalism is coupled with local brands producing better quality products and services, with more resonate marketing and sales strategies. It doesn’t mean foreign brands’ days are numbered in China – there remain plenty of cases of continued growth: purchases of imported fruit grew 36% last year, Nike’s sales in Greater China grew 24% last quarter, and Roger Dubuis announced their watches “resonate very well” with Chinese consumers last week. What it does mean is foreign brands have to work harder to find they place and point of difference that connects with consumers.

In a recent China Skinny fashion project, “国潮” – “China trend” often came up when speaking to consumers. It is something brands across many categories should consider incorporating into their mix to resonate with their target market. There have been many contrived attempts from foreign brands hoping to connect with Chinese culture, however we’ve found some of the most successful examples have been collaborations with local artists and cultural influencers. This could mean working with local fashion designers right through to well-known local chefs for product development and promotion.

Yet beyond trying to connect more with Chinese culture, countless foreign brands could align more with Chinese consumers by simply getting the basics right. Too many brands are still trying to force western sales channel strategies into China’s unique marketplace, others are using armies of Caucasian models to show Chinese how good something may look on them, they’re stocking the wrong sizes, shapes, packaging, formats or even flavours. Some are even developing China strategies based on talking to the ethnically Chinese who haven’t lived in China for some time, or are from a different region to their target market.

Trade war or no trade war, rising Chinese nationalism or not, there’s still countless opportunities for foreign brands to grow from delivering thoughtful strategies in China. China Skinny would welcome the chance to chat about how we can assist with that. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

The experience and knowledge that you’re likely to be getting from marketing to Chinese consumers – and from resources such as China Skinny – are hopefully helping you sell more in China. There’s also a good chance that they’re equipping you with expertise that spans far beyond the market. Chinese marketing campaigns are faster, cheaper, and often more effective than traditional Western ones, and in some ways they are better suited to today’s global marketplace, according to a study by US-based academic and former practitioner Kimberly Whitler.

Marketing in China hasn’t undergone the long evolution that many of us have grown up with in the West, and as a result, Chinese strategies are usually without the often-outdated and expensive approaches of traditional marketing. Instead, they’ve grown up with a mobile-first model, where everything is much faster and more data-driven.

As we find at the Skinny, effectively harnessing China’s unique digital ecosystems can garner much greater insights into consumers. This allows brands to build better products and services while improving engagement with consumers because they know a lot more about them.

Many who have marketed in the West tend to approach things from a channel-centric model, whereas successful marketers in China have to be much more consumer-centric, putting them ahead of individual sales and marketing channel-based strategies – online and offline – as much of these have become blurred.

Whitler’s extensive study highlighted the energy and excitement from Chinese-based companies. The size of the prize and growth in China has attracted the best from all over the world, and brought the money with it, creating an incredibly competitive marketplace where you have to innovate, and fast. This was summed up by the Head of Visa for Greater China: when working for companies such as PepsiCo and Unilever in the US, she would sit down with Walmart one or two years in advance to discuss a seasonal promotion far into the future. Whereas in China, she would think about creating seamless content across multiple platforms that is relevant right now, while building systems that are agile, adaptive and fast.

“When you look at China versus the Western mindset, the Western mindset has been really around scale and efficiency. Be slow, risk-averse, create systems, reduce from five plants to one plant, create one global product platform,” says Whitler. “And the China system is a growth mindset. How quickly can we grow our market share? These two contrasting approaches are colliding.”

Whitler noted BMW’s X1 campaign in China as a good example of straying from a traditional advertising-first, promotion-first type campaign to deliver content that consumers wanted to really engage with. BMW worked with WeChat to livestream a concert, amplified by key opinion leaders spanning different generations. Rather than the token ‘brought to you by BMW’ sponsorship, the brand wove its car into the fabric of the experience, offering gamification and allowing viewers to have a virtual test drive with KOLs, and even vote on the drivers. More than 10 million viewers participated.

Over the past few years, product and marketing innovation has shifted from Chinese companies looking to the West for ideas, to a more balanced dynamic where many companies, such as Apple, Amazon and Facebook are learning from and replicating what’s happening in China. There will always be initiatives that are specific to China’s unique consumer and ecosystem, but there is a sizable increase in innovations that the West can learn from China. We’ll aim to continue to keep you across these through our newsletter and client-specific projects. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

To many readers, video gaming may seem like pastime reserved for a small tribe of socially-awkward folk with Vitamin D deficiencies. Yet any marketer in China should be paying attention. China’s $36 billion video gaming market is four times larger than its movie industry and a driving force behind the inclusion of eSports as a medal event in the 2022 Asian Games, and even a possible demonstration sport at the 2024 Paris Olympics as the IOC wrestles between tradition and appealing to vast new audiences.

Chinese gamers have long been stereotyped as young males spending their free time in dingy internet cafes; their gaming-contorted fingers covered in a thick film of greasy food and crumbs. The People’s Liberation Army has even attributed gaming as a major reason so many young men fail its physical tests.

Nevertheless, profiles are changing. Gender fluidity is one of the big trends happening in the China market. Just look to the runaway growth of men’s makeup, a spike in males buying lacy-style and see-through fashions on Taobao, while women are buying up suits and almost half of cars from brands typically purchased by men in other markets such as Maserati and Porsches. It seems now that gaming is no longer just the realm of males, with some estimates claiming females make up almost half of China’s 530 million gamers.

Chinese consumers’ obsession with gaming should give marketers clues into how their target markets – male and female – see the world. For many, gaming is a form of escapism from boredom during long commutes and the 9am-9pm-6 days a week work schedule in many Chinese firms. But it is also a pillar in many Chinese social lives; a convenient place to meet others with shared interests, and the closest thing many have to playing team sports, brother and sisterhood, and even a place to meet love interests.

When many marketers think of utilising games in their strategies, it revolves around gamification to connect and engage with Chinese consumers. Whilst there are some success stories, most attempts simply aren’t interesting, relevant or well-integrated into other marketing initiatives, with few gamification investments attracting more than a handful of genuinely engaged participants.

The sophistication of game developers is presenting increasingly diverse opportunities to connect with the target market during an emotional moment in their day. Female-focused mobile dating game Love and Producer saw an estimated $32 million of in-app purchases after one month of being launched. High-end cosmetics brand M.A.C. released five Honour of Kings limited-edition lipsticks targeting its 100 million+ female players – 14,000 were preordered and all five lipstick styles sold out across all sales channels within 24-hours of launching.

Combined with awareness-building initiatives through placements and partnerships, gaming is also looking to become a legitimate sales channel for goods and services. The industry has even created its own sect of KOLs who are supported by millions of live streamers, all potential endorsers of products and services.

With Beijing’s new gaming approvals freeze starting to thaw, games and their players will continue to evolve into more sophisticated marketing and sales platforms to connect with the lucrative male and female millennials, and Gen-Zs. Contact China Skinny for advice on how best to do that.

With the extended May Day Holiday (in hope of stimulating spending), there’ll be no Skinny next week, but we’ll be back the following Wednesday. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

In October 2015, China announced plans that it would be abolishing its one-child policy the following year, in hope of rebalancing its top-heavy population which is expected to see 500 million folk aged over 60 by 2050. The announcement, coupled with the earlier one-child policy changes, had brands selling everything from infant formula to educational toys readjusting their sales forecasts north. Even Disney invested an additional $800 million in the construction of the Shanghai Disney Resort to add extra capacity to account for the fertility spike.

On the surface things started off well, with birth rates jumping 7.9% between 2015 and 2016. But it was always likely to be just a blip. 2016 was the Year of the Monkey, which was a much more desirable zodiac for childbearing than 2015, which happened to be a Sheep Year. Superstitious Chinese don’t want their kids to be the docile followers associated with our woolly friends.

There was also some pent up demand from parents who had always longed for more than one child. Yet for most Chinese couples, the 37-year-old One Child Policy had reengineered the national psyche making it socially acceptable to have a single child. The competitiveness of China’s education system also sees parents invest significant sums into their child’s education and development, coupled with the premium paid for safe food and beverage and other extras to ensure their child gets the best start at life. Most couples consider it too expensive to have more than one child.

Since 2016, birth rates have fallen off a cliff, dropping by 12% in 2018. In another troublesome sign for China’s fertility planners, marriage rates hit record lows in 2018. Couples need to be married in China to legally have a child. Beijing will be banking on the country’s investment in robotics and Artificial Intelligence to help make up for the falling working population.

So should those infant formula brands, Lego, Disney and other companies hoping to sell their wares to Chinese youngins be revising their revenue forecasts down? Not at all. As Chinese families’ affluence rises, a disproportionate share of the increase goes to their child. As they only have one, few cut corners. A child born today will have parents earning 130% more than those born a decade ago. There have been countless surveys with Chinese consumers over the years about how they would spend additional wealth, and a large percentage always cite they’d spend it on their child’s education and development. Even extra budget directed at travel will often be to take the kids away, with families one of the fastest growing outbound tourist segments.

To get a real taste of how important the market for children’s goods and services is, take a trip to the town of Zhili in Zhejiang Province this November. The town famous for its child garment factories has a population of 100,000, which swells to around 350,000 around peak times such as Singles’ Day. The population boost comes from families relocating there in the hope that their kid will become China’s next top child model. Kids can earn up to ¥10,000 ($1,500) a day, with the most popular models reportedly earning a million ($150K) a year. The modelling rates highlight just how lucrative the children’s fashion category is, but also its competitiveness.

Although birth rates are falling, there were still 15.23 million children born in China last year – and a greater portion with affluent parents than ever. Citi Research, in their short video about the infant formula category, summed the situation up well: “having the right route-to-market, especially in the online channel, matters more than the underlying market”. That could be said for virtually every category in China, where there remain enormous target markets still willing to spend, regardless of slowing population or economic growth. China Skinny can assist with your route to market. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

Countries trading with China have seen their share of geopolitical tensions of late: the trade war with the US, Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, foreign espionage claims in Australia, threats of Huawei bans across countries from New Zealand to PolandEuropean talk of China being a “systemic rival” and threatening tighter rules on its investments in the region, a host of ongoing tensions with ASEAN countries over the South China Sea, and so on.

The tensions are said to have been responsible for restrictions on Australian coal shipments, suspension of Canadian canola exports, the delayed launch of the 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism festivities (which finally took place on Saturday), and Wall Street bankers’ claims that an informal boycott of US goods is the root of Apple’s woes in China.

There’s no question the results of tensions can be challenging for exporters, but they aren’t a scratch on what happened to Japanese brands in 2012 over an island territorial spat in the East China Sea. It was one of the most fearful displays we have seen when it comes to how powerful China’s state media can be in swaying public opinion. Anti-Japanese sentiment soared among consumers, driving protestors to wreak an estimated $126 million worth of damage to Japanese-branded goods, buildings and related sales. In two waves of protests, hundreds of Japanese-branded cars were smashed and overturned, rocks were thrown at Japanese restaurants, Japanese factories were set ablaze, Japanese buildings were broken into and ransacked, and stores selling Japanese goods were vandalised, causing many to shutter, including the $8.8 million destruction of an AEON supermarket.

The week between 15-21 September saw the Japanese car manufacturing industry suffer losses of $250 million due to the production of about 14,000 cars being suspended, with subsequent sales in September dropping by close to 50%. Tourists to Japan plummeted by nearly half in the month that followed.

Yet if Japan is anything to go by, exporters losing sleep over their current geopolitical tensions should be heartened. Japan has good stuff, and most Chinese consumers couldn’t stay away, no matter how deep-rooted their Anti-Japanese feelings were. Chinese tourists to Japan grew more than five-fold from 1.4 million in 2012 to 7.4 million in 2017. Since then, visiting Chinese spending in Japan was so lavish that a new term — “buying explosion” — emerged to describe the way Chinese tourists des­cend on particular Japanese retailers, buying everything from Japanese rice, to toilet seats, to condoms. Even Japanese car sales have soared, with China expected to overtake Japan on volume last year.

However, probably the most astonishing indicator of Japanese love by Chinese consumers is restaurant data released by the Japanese External Trade Organization. The number of Japanese restaurants in China grew from about 10,600 in the beginning of 2017 to 40,800 at the end of the year. Even by Chinese standards, that is phenomenal growth!

The key takeaways from our Japanese friends is that the impact of geopolitical tensions – as undesirable as they are – are generally short term blips, if they have any impact at all. If you make quality products and services that connect with Chinese tastes and preferences and are marketed well, the shoppers are likely to stay loyal, or soon come back wanting more. Here’s to that.

On the subject of Chinese restaurant and food preferences – Japanese and the others, China Skinny’s Mark Tanner will be sharing valuable insights at the Foodomics Conference in Auckland, New Zealand on 10 April. It would be great to hear from you if you will be there. More info here. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

Since Australia established formal diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China in 1972, the country’s fortunes have become increasingly linked to the Middle Kingdom. No Western country’s economy has benefitted more from China’s rise than Australia. Much of China’s unprecedented economic growth has been built with Australian iron ore and powered by Aussie coal and liquified natural gas. In a way, Australia’s resource traders blazed a trail for Australian exporters, teaching cultural lessons about doing business in China, and raising China’s profile as a destination for exports.

Since Chinese consumers have started entering the middle class, Australian brands have been relatively quick to make their goods and services available to them. Over the past couple of Singles’ Days, Australian products have been the third and fourth highest ranking country for product origin, even though Australia isn’t even in the top-50 countries by population.

Australia’s success in exporting to China always had pretty good odds. Australia’s relatively close proximity to China, in both flight time and time zones, makes it easier to get up to the market to do business. And unlike other major western economies, Australia doesn’t have a large domestic base or similar countries close by to send their wares, so it has always had to be a little more adventurous when prospecting for export markets. It is also the often-unthanked Chinese residents in Australia and visiting tourists who have helped promote many Australian things to their friends and family back in the Mainland. No country outside of Asia has more people of Chinese heritage per capita than Australia, on top of the 1.4 million Chinese who visited Australia last year.

In 2017-2018 Australia’s exports to China were $123.3 billion, or 30.6% of total exports. This dwarfs Australia’s number two destination of Japan where exports were $51.3 billion. Over the past five years, exports to China have surged 56%, whereas Japan grew by just 6%. Yet it’s not all Kumbaya and shrimp and steak barbecues, Sino-Australian relations have deteriorated lately, particularly over the past-12 months.

Australia’s position as one of the pioneering, best practice and reliant exporters to China – balanced with its increasingly precarious stance on geopolitics – makes it one of the most important and interesting relationships to monitor in today’s globalised world. That’s why China Skinny was honoured to be back again this year working with Austcham Shanghai on the second annual Westpac Australia-China Business Sentiment Survey which launched yesterday in Sydney. The survey provides a platform to really understand how Australian businesses on the ground in China are faring in light of the geopolitical tensions and slowing economic growth.

To Australian businesses’ credit, we had 211 complete the survey this year – 33% more than last year. Overall, sentiment was down 6.7% from last year but remained largely optimistic – with 71.6% either optimistic or slightly optimistic about the next 12-months; 81.5% in their five-year outlook. The results also pleasingly demonstrated an increase in Australian businesses’ forecasting profitability in 2019 – a strong 78.9%, from 62.5% in 2018.

One of the promising findings from the survey was that Australian businesses appear to be maturing and realising that China is a market that requires tailored initiatives. 61.1% of businesses surveyed will offer unique products and services for the China market this year – and are 32% more profitable as a result.

Domestic consumption was again considered the most important opportunity for Australian businesses and is also being supported by 26.6% investing in market research and development – 10.7% more than last year. 74.9% have a digital strategy in place or in development, with 59.7% having one that incorporated ecommerce. For those businesses already selling online, they are selling on an average of 2.5 platforms, versus 2 last year. Almost a quarter of businesses surveyed are early adopters of New Retail, with 66.0% of these businesses experiencing a 10% rise in revenue and 55.4% benefitting from increased brand and market insights.

There’s many, many more interesting insights throughout the report. The results aren’t just a barometer for other Australian businesses exporting to China; they provide any company working in China with a great benchmark to understand the common challenges and opportunities. We’d recommend you download the report and see for yourself. You can get it by clicking/tapping here.

A special acknowledgement to our own Alexander Kelso and Austcham Shanghai’s Stephanie Smith, who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring the survey to life. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

Fancy a tonic favoured by Chinese emperors that cures painful joints, frail kidneys, and weakness and anemia in women? Or how about a milk beverage that will enlarge your breasts from an A-cup to a D? Perhaps a coconut drink that whitens your skin and will make you more buxom?

Believe it or not, these are all advertising claims in China, and not by small fly-by-night operations. The cure-all tonic was a top-seller from Hongmao Pharmaceutical, who outspent P&G in 2016 to become China’s largest advertiser. The breast-enlarging milk drink was the product of China’s largest beverage group Wahaha, and the magical coconut juice comes from the producers of China’s most popular coconut milk.

Reports of such advertising and other headline-grabbing news such as hordes of Chinese tourists lured to Sydney University believing it was a setting in Harry Potter movies may have some believe that Chinese consumers are a gullible posse. Don’t be misled. Whilst some consumers in lower tier cities are making discretionary purchases for the first time and lack some confidence, most middle-affluent class Chinese are incredibly sophisticated. While we’re seeing a rise in impulsive purchases, Chinese consumers typically don’t take things at face value and do significantly more research before purchasing products and services than their Western peers.

Much of this research comes down to an inherent lack of trust. This is confirmed in virtually every project China Skinny works on, in which Chinese consumers’ purchase journey involve an extensive series of touch points across online and offline channels before a purchase is made.

Most readers will be aware of the fake vaccines, fake condoms and even fake zoo animals. Yet Chinese consumers can’t even rely on cross border ecommerce, which is held up as the beacon of trust – supposedly straight from the source from a more dependable origin. In reality this isn’t true; 40% of cosmetics sold through cross border on Singles’ Day ’17 were fake for example.

Although China updated its advertising laws in 2015 to be much more punitive, many false promises continue to slip though. China has the most fragmented bricks & mortar retail landscape of any major economy, and an online sector containing tens of millions of stores that even Alibaba and Tencent struggle to control in light of their advanced data mining and AI. The regular scams have been one of the drivers behind China’s $9 billion key opinion leader (KOL) industry, who are often more trusted than brands even though close to 70% of KOLs have fake fans and engagement. Regardless, over 60% of Chinese consumers are receptive to online influencers compared with 49% in the US and 38% in Japan.

Although China’s marketing landscape is littered with fakes, foreign brands shouldn’t take Chinese consumers to be fools – they are anything but. It is good to be aware of the misleading claims out there, but don’t dare to try it yourself. It will be found out and shared on social media en masse. Chinese consumers are unforgiving to those who disrespect their intelligence, particularly foreign brands. China Skinny can assist to ensure you can still succeed by keeping everything above board.

On another note, we’re hiring! If you’re a native English speaker based in Shanghai who is curious, intelligent and personable and happy working across diverse and fascinating projects, go ahead and apply. More information here. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

Many brands are aware of how China’s innovations around New Retail, digital and mobile payments are fundamentally changing the way consumers research and buy products. Yet, what is often overlooked is how they are altering the format and even the type of product they buy.

Research was recently published claiming that Chinese mothers are moving away from traditional frozen ready meals, like dumplings and buns, and instead opting for frozen full meal sets such as beef noodles. Whilst this isn’t untrue, our research has found a much bigger trend pointing to a shift away from frozen foods altogether.

On numerous research projects, China Skinny has visited many homes across different China cities. In the kitchens, small freezers are stuffed with once-popular products like bags of dumplings coated with freezer-burn, seemingly untouched for many a moon. The ageing packs are representative of frozen formats falling out of favour with Chinese consumers as alternatives perceived as healthier become more convenient and accessible.

With healthy and natural having become key criteria for purchasing food, frozen options sit many rungs below fresh on the hierarchy of healthiness. That’s nothing new, but what has changed is the accessibility of fresh food, particularly for busy mothers. With stores like Hema/Fresh Hippo, 7Fresh and even the massive RT-Mart now delivering orders within 30-minutes, the incentive to have quick access to frozen products has diminished. There are currently 355 million users of delivery apps in China – a quarter of all Chinese are regularly having food brought to their homes and offices.

While the booming restaurant meal delivery service is cannibalising many food categories and changing countless restaurants and cafés’ strategies, China’s ever-discerning mothers still want an element of food preparation. They wish to have more control over their cooking, ensuring it is fresh when served – not soggy or luke-warm – while still deriving the emotional self-satisfaction of feeling they having played a part in cooking the meal. These factors, coupled with being time-short, have contributed to a stark rise in the demand for ready-to-cook fresh/chilled meals in China.

As brands define the appeal of their products, ingredients, packaging and sizes for the Chinese market, they should also consider the format. Frozen, tinned or other forms of preservation has provided a way for food to make the long trip to China and still be good for sale. While there is likely to long be demand for such food, brands should consider product development for alternative formats that will meet the growing demand for fresh, natural and convenient food.

Food is just one category that is being turned upside down by New Retail, and brands across almost every category should be cognisant of the changes to ensure that they aren’t left behind.

On a not-entirely unrelated tangent, China Skinny will be in Australia later this month with Austcham and Westpac to launch the 2019 Australia-China Business Sentiment Survey results. We’ll share the differences we found from last year’s survey, and how Australian businesses are tracking in this interesting geopolitical and economic climate. The events are in Sydney on 26 March, Brisbane 27 March, Melbourne 28 March, Perth 29 March and Shanghai 18 April. Let us know if you can make any of the events, it would be great to catch up there. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

As China’s urban millennials have become the most sought-after consumers on the planet, marketers have been seeking less contested consumer groups to target their wares. The next growth areas that we often hear about are the rural consumers and those with silver hair.

For the rural folk, many expect their latent demand to step up and fill the gap from the city dwellers – those who already have everything from cars to appliances to smartphones. 577 million Chinese lived in rural areas in 2017, and the big tech companies have been all over it. Alibaba and JD are investing in rural fulfilment centres, marketing and even drone delivery. Interestingly, the latest Internet growth data points to a rural population that may not be as enthused about spending up a storm as many had hoped.

China’s heaving Internet population stood at a whopping 829 million at the end of 2018 – 57 million or 7.3% more than the year before. The segment that has the most room for growth – Chinese living in rural areas, grew just 6.2% to 222 million, indicating a widening digital divide between China’s urban dwellers and those in the countryside. That’s not a great sign for consumption in these areas. The Internet represents the most promising channel for rural consumers to buy things – they can’t just pop down to the local IKEA to purchase a new sofa. Another barrier for sales is that rural consumers make less than a third of what urban-dwellers make and are much less likely to spend it on aspirational foreign brands.

The other well-cited growth opportunity – China’s seniors – by sheer numbers along should be one of the greatest opportunities marketers have ever seen. Last year, the number of Chinese over 60 reached 249.5 million to outnumber those under 16 for the first time in history. Since 2010, the demographic has seen an average annual growth of 2.08 million. At the same time, the under-15 brood has been dropping at 2.25 million a year.

If we look to the Baby Boomers in the West – the empty nesters riding on the back of a lifetime of savings and equity gains on their house and other investments – they have been spoiling themselves while their joints still allow it. Yet most of the seniors in China aren’t such free spenders. They have grown up in austere times, and have an inherent necessity to save for a rainy day and be frugal, even more-so than those who were around during The Great Depression in the West. The rising consumer debt in China can almost be solely attributed to the consumption-crazed youth; people between the ages of 24 and 35 account for more than 70% of consumer borrowers in China.

While there will inevitably be increasing opportunities by targeting China’s silver surfers – there will be a half a billion of them by 2050 – they will remain much less likely to pay a premium for better products and services than their younger peers. They also won’t be as easily wooed by foreign lifestyles, products and services.

In short, millennials and the younger post-95s/Gen-Zs remain the most lucrative consumer group in China. Yet the rules to reach and resonate with them are constantly changing. Companies need to dive much deeper in understanding their emotional and functional needs, what influences them, where they research and buy, and how to make advocates out of them. If a brand can understand and serve those needs, there’s still plenty of legs in the contested younger demographics in the city – particularly the lower-tier cities. China Skinny can work with you to ensure you’re there. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.