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.
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.
If you’re already exporting to China, we’re guessing you’re probably also selling to a host of other countries – markets like Dubai and the other six emirates could be on the list. In the UAE, there’s a good chance you’ve engaged some localisation for the country – culturally sensitive and resonant branding & communications, legal & regulatory allowances, logistics & distribution, and possibly even some new product development and packaging. In China, it’s probable that you’ve also localised the mix. But how local is your localisation?
Few people come to China without hearing that the country is like Europe; made up of varied and diverse regions. Yet in the same moment of acknowledgement, many will turn around and ‘localise for China’ with a homogenous strategy that they hope will win the hearts of consumers spanning the country.
China Skinny does a lot of research across different cities and provinces in China, and we usually find notable variances between the regions. There are the obvious differences in food tastes, climates, lifestyles, pollution and even body size, but it is the emotional cues that are often the most pronounced. We only need to look at one of the most common themes in Chinese advertising – families. Even in Guangzhou and Shenzhen – two tier 1 cities just 30 minutes apart on the fast train, the reality for families can be quite different: a large share of millennials in Guangzhou live with their parents and see them most days. In Shenzhen – a city built by domestic migrants – many millennials may only see their parents every few months, or just once a year during the Spring Festival.
Whilst some overarching localisation should be implemented across China, there is often a case to get city-specific with marketing and other initiatives. Take Shanghai, it has population greater than Australia, and a 13% larger GDP than the UAE, yet unlike the UAE-specific localisation, many brands will roll out the same strategy for Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and many other cities across China.
China’s metropolises are of a scale and affluence that they justify an element of localisation. The hyper-competitive nature of marketing in Chinese cities is finding it increasingly harder to connect with consumers without it. That means localising messaging, and even sometimes the digital platforms you use to share it. In certain demographics in some cities, digital channels aren’t always the best option to reach Chinese consumers, highlighting the need to have regionally-specific plans.
Over the past few years, brands have become increasingly focused on cities beyond tier 1, and even tier 2, with good reason. These ‘smaller’ cities are often much less contested and less apathetic to interesting, new foreign products. Half of the 50 million Chinese households entering the middle to affluent classes between 2016-2020 are expected to reign from cities outside of the top-100 cities according to BCG. They’re buying more imported products, and travelling abroad more which influences more purchases. The number of direct flights between cities in China and Thailand grew from 69 to 148 over the past three years for example. Yet with such variances between lower tier cities, brands would be wise to do their due diligence before entering and localising for them.
On the subject of cities, China Skinny has launched a new tool on our site to help you make sense of it all. We’re often getting questions about which cities fall into which tier, so we have created out City Tier Calculator which provides detailed information about which tier Chinese cities are, some of the key indicators, their rankings in that tier, and even how many Starbucks they have. Use the tool here. The tool is part of an overall redesign of chinaskinny.com, which is long overdue – we’d suggest you take a look. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.
Back in 2012 scouring content for the Skinny, it seemed almost every week there was another article praising KFC’s success in China. It was the Western pin-up brand; finding the much sought-after balance that tempted the masses with its alluring foreignness, but localised its offerings just enough to appeal to Chinese tastes – with the menu sporting old favourites like congee.
For every 10 bucks spent on fast food in China, KFC accounted for 4. It had almost 4,000 restaurants, with another 16,000 planned. There were movie placements, celebs munching on drumsticks, lovebirds courting one another over buckets … then Bird Flu and a series of scandals happened.
KFC has never really recovered from the dark days of ’13. In 2014 the menu was ‘overhauled’ for the first time in 27 years, there’s been a refresh of some decor, but if you were to go into most KFC restaurants in China they still bear a stark resemblance to the golden years pre-2013. China, Chinese consumers, and their tastes on the other hand have changed – dramatically. A simple scan of restaurants on Dianping or a stroll through a city mall or restaurant street and it becomes clear that there has been an evolution in China’s hospitality sector. La Liste’s annual ranking of the world’s restaurants noted the big trend is the rise of restaurants in China who are meticulously preparing and presenting food, and charging real money for it.
Contrast KFC with another mega-chain from America – Starbucks. Over recent years, the coffeehouse chain has constantly adapted to Chinese consumers and their ever-shifting expectations for newer, shinier offerings. They have played well to Chinese consumers’ inherent need for status from what they purchase, opening cafes in highly visible spots in city streets and premium office building foyers where they will be seen sipping on their Green Tea Crème Frappuccinos. The look and feel of cafes have also evolved to keep up with changing tastes, with some of the latest cafes having fit outs that wouldn’t look out of place against some of the fine dining establishments on Shanghai’s Bund.
Starbucks has always played to Chinese love of all things digital and typically been an early adopter and innovative user of technology. In the early days of WeChat, it cleverly used the limited functions by encouraging fans to send emoticons reflecting their mood, receiving a short music clip related to that mood. A little later in the game they accepted WeChat Pay with some alluring features such as the ability to gift friends and family a drink or two.
Last week’s launch of Starbuck’s mega reserve roastery in Shanghai is one of its most exciting initiatives yet. In addition to a beautiful fitout, complete with contemporary Chinese elements, the venue plays true to the ‘New Retail’ movement that is fast making its way into the bricks & mortar landscape. Integrating the Taobao app, augmented reality brings Starbuck’s story to life in a format that China’s millennials love. The app also allows them to skip the queue and buy merchandise, which improves both customer experience and the likelihood of increased sales and advocacy purchases.
Much like KFC was before 2013, Starbucks has become a much-cited case study – with good reason. It illustrates how brands can successfully keep up and stay relevant to the ever-changing needs of Chinese consumers through offline and online initiatives and product offerings. Their lessons don’t just apply in the hospitality trade, but are applicable for any foreign or local brand trading in China. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.
Health has been one of the core themes in China’s consumer landscape over the past few years. Anyone who understands Chinese consumers’ approach to health will appreciate the unity based on the opposing and complementary relations of the yin and yang. A pillar of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) beliefs, the yin and yang need to be in harmony – when one aspect is deficient, the other is in excess.
Many consumers’ health, food and lifestyle decisions are based on maintaining this balance – this ensures a normal flow of qi so their body functions well and they can recover from illness more easily. Whilst people are increasingly living longer in China, partially due to advancements in modern medicine, the ancient TCM beliefs still hold significant importance for consumers. Many factors disrupting that harmony have only become an issue over the past generation.
We only need to look at the scary growth in breast cancer rates in Chinese women to understand how the yin and yang have been knocked off balance. Breast cancer has become the most common cancer among women in China with rates climbing 3.5% annually between 2000 and 2013, versus a 0.4% annual drop in the US. Much of the growth can be attributed to a generation of changes in Chinese lifestyles, such as urbanisation and an increase in professional work. This has led to lower childbearing rates and older mothers at birth, with a subsequent aversion to breastfeeding. Higher stress, less exercise, more unhealthy diets and increased alcohol consumption are also contributing. Each of these factors are common in many countries, but the rate and extremity of change has been much more dramatic in China.
Common household salt has been another factor disrupting the qi flow. On average Chinese eat more than double the recommended intake of salt. This is also a problem in many countries, the difference is 80% of consumption is attributable to Chinese consumers’ own cooking, whereas in the West it mainly comes from processed foods. The list of contributors goes on, as do their differences from other countries.
To help find balance, Chinese are increasingly making conscious decisions to consume healthy food and vitamins, in addition to doing more activities based on healthiness. The most popular of those is jogging. Interestingly, numerous studies have found the negative effects of exercising in pollution outweigh the benefits. This has done little to temper the enthusiasm of joggers in Chinese cities and their paraphernalia.
Many of the factors affecting consumers’ yin and yang balance are attributable to their lifestyle and dietary choices, however a number remain out of control of the average urban dweller. Air pollution may be the most visible, yet the water and soil pollution are often much more damaging to the balance and harder to restore. According to a national soil survey, one-fifth of farmland in China is contaminated by organic and inorganic chemical pollutants and by metals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic, with the most polluted areas concentrated around the wealthy cities where a large share of their food is grown. Unfortunately a paddock growing rice in soil oozing with cadmium seepage and irrigated with toxic water still often looks like a normal green rice paddy, making it harder to manage and resolve. Even the remarkable rise of meal delivery in China is contributing to waste that is affecting the food supply chain and consequent balance.
These influences have been a boon for foreign brands who are often perceived as healthier. Yet every brand trading on health and purity would be wise to understand how the yin and yang, and hot and cold fit into many consumers’ consideration set. Agencies such as China Skinny can assist with your new product development, your brand and positioning to ensure this is considered and relevant to Chinese consumers. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.
When a Chinese consumer makes a decision – from picking a bottle of water, to choosing which country will best educate their child – the influence of KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) can be dramatic. A feature of Chinese thought since the days of Chairman Mao, the KOL economy is set to boom; 2016’s value of ¥53 billion ($7.8 billion) is estimated to near double to ¥102 billion ($15.1 billion) next year. To bring some perspective, that is three times the forecasted value of China’s newspaper and magazine advertising in 2018.
Chinese consumers are well aware that influencers are rewarded for endorsing brands (in addition to ‘tips’ from fans). Despite this, their social media broadcasts have become some of the most authoritative and trusted sources for information.
One of the reasons for this can be traced back to 2011 when two of China’s new fast trains crashed, killing 40 people. While state media attempted to cover it up, consumers posted about it as it happened on Weibo, which was the primary social channel at the time. This had two notable consequences: 1. Chinese began to trust what they read from reliable sources on social media much more than traditional state-run media channels like TV, radio and print; and 2. Beijing, having already lost a lot of face from the Weibo reports of the train crash and subsequent citizen exposés and protests, saw the need to wrestle back influence from the people.
In 2013 legislation was passed threatening jail to those who created viral social posts that weren’t aligned with the Government mandate. This fundamentally altered the way influential Chinese posted on social media. With several celebrity social media accounts shut down in recent weeks, Beijing continues to tighten control on what KOLs actually say. In short, any KOL who doesn’t toe the party line will be shut down and in most cases, lose their livelihood.
The reality of operating in China on any scale, whether you are a celebrity, brand, or any type of business, you need to play by Beijing’s rules. Notwithstanding, although some would say KOLs are increasingly becoming state cheerleaders, their attraction certainly isn’t waning.
40% of food & beverage advertising in China is fronted by a KOL, versus around 10% in the US and UK. Luxury brands are among the most prevalent users of KOLs with watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre paying Papi Jiang over ¥5 million ($740K) for a campaign which saw their awareness more than double. Michael Kors threw a birthday party for actress Yang Mi. Brands are also using lesser known individuals, but who are well respected in their fields to appeal to an increasingly discerning Chinese consumer who are looking deeper into KOL endorsements. An example of this is Giorgio Armani supporting Chinese designer Xuzhi Chen.
KOLs can help break through the extraordinary clutter in China and amplify messages at a time when just 28% of 12-14 million official WeChat accounts saw an increase in content readership last year. But much like WeChat, a relevant and smart KOL strategy is imperative to ensure brands aren’t throwing good money after bad. Agencies such as China Skinny can help devising such a strategy.
On the subject of marketing strategies for China, our US-based readers in the Bay Area should consider attending the Export 101 Series on Thursday July 20 in San Jose. China Skinny’s Ann Bierbower will be sharing wisdom, joining the US Department of Commerce, DHL Express and the CalAsian Chamber at the event. Register here. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.
Last week Alibaba hosted their first conference outside of China – Gateway 17 in Detroit. China Skinny was there.
Jack Ma has long had a personal dream of cracking the US and with plenty of cash in the coffers, Alibaba was out to dazzle the audience. Jack Ma was joined by Martha Stewart, Lisa Ling, Charlie Rose and robots, backed up with an arsenal of big statistics and some sage advice to entice more American businesses to export to China.
The focus of Gateway 17 was to sell the Alibaba dream, yet exporters would be wise to consider the multitude of other options when planning a market entry into China. For big brands, a presence on Alibaba is an essential hygiene factor for both sales and marketing. Marketing on Alibaba’s platforms is becoming more powerful with new tools such as the Uni Marketing system offering features such as personalised and targeted communications.
Whilst there are great success stories on Tmall and Tmall Global, the platforms aren’t right for every brand. It is not cheap to set up and operate, and new stores are competing with over 10 million other vendors who are often well established. Smaller brands may also have difficulty being accepted by Alibaba.
Alibaba has a finely tuned sales machine attracting foreign brands to its platforms. It has set up offices across North America, Europe and Australasia, has shiny campus tours for visiting delegations and now hosts overseas events to woo Western brands to its cross border channels. Yet with all the good news stories, there are some cautionary factors. For example, Tmall Global’s sales drive saw the number of brands selling on the platform grow 169% last year, with sales growing just 30% – a similar rate to ecommerce overall. In short, there are many more foreign brands competing for a smaller piece of pie.
Cross border commerce is also much more fragmented than Mainland based commerce. Alibaba commands around 80% of overall ecommerce sales in China and 57% of B2C commerce. Whereas Tmall Global accounts for just 18.9% of the cross border market and Taobao Global 15.4%.
There are a host of smaller cross border platforms that are often more targeted to specific segments such as food, wine, cosmetics, mum & baby, health and fashion. They may only have 10 or 20 million shoppers, but they are generally qualified for your segment, often more affluent, and the competition is less fierce.
Alibaba is China’s most popular ecommerce platform and a great option for many brands, however China is a large market with a number of online and offline sales channels, so take some time to consider them. Agencies like China Skinny can help you work through your options. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.
If you’re looking for trends in the Chinese consumer market, the tourism industry should be your first stop. Whether it’s trading-up in food & beverage or the health & fitness craze seizing the domestic market, China Skinny sees China’s affluent international travellers particularly influential in shaping these trends back home. A quick glance at five trends stemming from tourism:
1: Make it special. Wealthy travellers have been ditching the standard travel packages in favour of finely-tuned and customizable ones for a while now. Across virtually every category brands are looking to create more personalized offerings to meet the increasingly specific wants and needs of Chinese consumers.
2: Get adventurous. Affluent travellers are also getting more adventurous on their holidays, seeking a more authentic experience – a theme replicated in individual tastes across other categories. Based on the number of tents and outdoor equipment sold on Alibaba platforms last year, adventure of a less comfortable nature also looks to be trending in China.
3: It’s the little things. Little comforts like bottled water, kettles and slippers have long been an important feature in hotel rooms and are key to keeping an ever-more discerning Chinese traveller happy. Similar hygiene factors and little surprises will go a long way for any brand in ensuring Chinese consumers are happy and potentially prompting all-important advocacy for your brand.
4: Convenience is king. Tourism operators have been quick to identify the short attention spans of Chinese tourists, with some notably shortening the duration of the activities they offer to Chinese tourists. This trait is mirrored by the general consumer who is seeking convenience and instant gratification from what they buy.
5: Domestic brands know best. Domestic players are upping their game in every category. From the National Tourism Administration’s “Toilet Revolution” which has seen over 50,000 of China’s toilets upgraded since 2015, to intricately restored (and sometimes rebuilt) historic wonders, to epic theme parks, to deep-pocketed online travel apps. Across all categories it pays to research and learn from domestic counterparts when delivering products are services that are tailored for the Chinese market.
An example of domestic learnings is the point of difference Tujia holds over Airbnb as it tries to establish a foothold in China. Beijing has a jumble of business districts often defined by a certain specialty. If you want to stay in a commerce, tech or arts area Tujia gives you the ability to narrow your search accordingly. With Beijing’s hospitals driving a huge amount of short-term accommodation, users can look for areas around certain medical facilities. Beijing’s traffic is a known hassle, so sorting by proximity to subway lines and specific attractions is a much appreciated feature. Not only do Chinese consumers have unique needs, but they are often specific to different locations in China.
Improving domestic competition is mostly a good thing for tourism. Like with many categories, from wine to furniture, a good local experience will whet travellers’ appetites for more and often lead to farther-flung holidays, particularly to destinations catering to Chinese needs.
One of the most powerful channels to reach not just Chinese tourists but all consumers is digital. For our Shanghai-based readers, China Skinny’s Nadja Rauscher will be on stage at Austcham’s Clicks to Commerce event next Tuesday 27 June providing some great tips and tricks to best stand out in China’s crowded digital market. More info here. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.
Any news covering Intellectual Property and China is typically fraught with stories about IP-theft and trademark violations. It can cover anything from fake milk powder, to Alibaba being ousted from the prestigious International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition (IACC), to a man named Wang who bought 1 million RMB worth of fakes on Singles’ Day.
But behind the easy clickbait headlines about Chinese fakes, there is a growing trend that is likely to improve IP protection and enforcement in China. Chinese are filing for their own patents at a rate never seen before, anywhere. Last year, China became the first country to ever file more than a million patents over a 12 month period – close to double that of the US.
With China getting more of their own IP to protect, and Beijing doing what it can to encourage innovation to transition to a higher value economy, it has much more incentive to police counterfeits and copycats. As much as two thirds of the world’s fakes have been estimated to originate from China, so there is some work to do.
Growing IP protection in China is good news for foreign brands, although it’s further evidence that Chinese businesses are increasingly aiming to compete on more than just price.
At this stage, virtually all competition from Chinese brands will come in their home market. While we hear a lot about companies like Huawei, Haier and Ctrip aggressively expanding abroad, it would appear that most Chinese players only have China in their sights. China organisations filed just 42,154 overseas applications, less than a fifth of the 237,961 from the US, and a small part of Japan’s 195,446 and Germany’s 101,892.
Increasing patent filings are a key ingredient to build China into a true global player, but another contributing factor, entrepreneurialism, still appears to be lacking. It is moving in the right direction nevertheless.
One category that Chinese innovation is unlikely to challenge is outbound tourism. For our Shanghai-based readers, China Skinny’s Andrew Atkinson will be speaking tomorrow morning (Thursday) about the changing face of the Chinese tourist, and what you need to know to reach them. More info here. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.
With an estimated 500 new products launching every day in a market that is already fiercely competitive, brands vying for earshot can easily go unnoticed in China.
A popular way to break through the clutter and amplify your message is to use Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). Chinese people have a history of taking cues from a small group of people – we only need to look back to the days of Chairman Mao. Yet in today’s market there is more noise and less trust than ever, and Chinese consumers often seek direction and affirmation from someone they trust and admire in making purchase decisions. With the growth of WeChat and Weibo, China’s influencers are becoming more prolific and diverse than ever.
Some of the most popular KOLs on WeChat and Weibo are now so valuable they are courting investment, such as video blogger Papi Jiang who received funding of $1.8 million and was paid $3.4 million for a single ad earlier this year.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard stories of soaring sales of lavender bears, fish & chips and craft beer after well known figures tried them; KOLs can be immensely powerful in China, but they can also be costly with little impact on sales.
Due to the popularity of KOLs, many charge sky high fees for endorsements. That’s regardless of whether their fan base and areas of influence are relevant to your brand and target market. Similarly, some trade on huge follower numbers. However the ease of cheaply purchasing fake followers, likes, and even comments on Taobao can render these numbers irrelevant. Deep analysis into KOLs’ true reach is invaluable. You’d probably also want to do a background check, as a number of China’s nouveau celebs have been getting up to mischief lately, which doesn’t help your brand’s image in the eyes of the average consumer.
Most importantly, your target market needs to consider your KOL authentic and relevant to them. Often the micro or grass-roots influencers can have more sway with consumer groups in their fields than the A-listers, and will be a fraction of the cost.
In addition to getting to know the KOLs, it’s also valuable to understand the fans who follow them. Weibo recently released findings of an interesting study shedding light on China’s online influencers. 36,410 of the most prominent online celebrities each received an average of 25,130 reposts, 11,151 comments and 45,317 likes over five months this year. Whilst most followers are males, 74% of online celebs are female. Of those celebrities, 88% are 17-33 years old and 89% have a tertiary education. The majority live in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.
Done well, KOLs can be very effective to build awareness and trust. Yet on their own, they are rarely enough to convert to sales. Chinese consumers often see the same KOLs endorsing countless other products. KOLs may spark an interest and prompt them to seek more information, which is why it is best to optimise and integrate other touch points too. China Skinny can assist with that. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.
Every day this year, an average of more than 120,000 new Chinese consumers signed up to the Internet. Most of them on their smartphones, and many of them using it to run a big part of their lives.
Growth in internet users coupled with an evermore online savvy population has contributed to an impressive rise of Chinese who are active online. In the past year, 18% more consumers shopped on Alibaba platforms, 65% more bought on JD and Weibo’s active social media users surged by 36%. Yet the most interesting growth story is the convergence of commerce and social media on WeChat.
Although WeChat sales are small relative to traditional ecommerce channels, its growth potential is enormous. Every official and personal account has the ability to sell to their followers and friends. This has prompted tens of millions of enterprising WeChat users to try and pry a few bucks out of their WeChat networks – a subtle version of Amway if you like.
There are now more than five times more stores on WeChat than there are on Taobao, Tmall and JD combined. Although individuals make up the majority of stores, brands such as Dior – who don’t even have their own ecommerce store yet – are dipping their toes into social commerce. WeChat’s all-in-one nature is creating a whole new level of commerce-related sharing opportunities that is unrivalled globally.
On top of trading products on WeChat, app usage rates for services such as ride sharing, food delivery, cinema, massage booking and health, to name a few, are among the highest globally.
The phenomenal uptake and usage rates of smartphone commerce has been driven by massive sweeteners – for example Meituan Dianping was estimated to have provided ¥58 billion ($9 billion) worth of discounts and subsidies for restaurants and movies in 2015. Such incentives have been enabled by countless sums of investment cash utilised to grow users, often with little regard for profits. Last year over $20 billion dollars was invested in Chinese internet businesses – quadruple that of 2012.
A result of the investments are some significant mergers and consolidations, including ride hailing apps Didi-Kuaidi-Uber, group buying and food apps Meituan-Dianping, classified ads Ganji-58.com and online travel Ctrip-Qunar. The mergers have created virtual monopolies and, by proxy, less incentives to subsidise and discount. The most recent example is the Didi-Uber merger which has seen a typical ride that cost ¥8 in May, now costing ¥13.
Fewer subsidies may slightly slow down the adoption rate of many apps, but Chinese consumers will continue their deeply-embedded habits of using smartphone apps in most facets of life. Brands should factor this into their marketing strategies and creative tactics as a powerful way to engage Chinese consumers. China Skinny can assist with that. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.
Many have pondered what would happen if everyone in China jumped at the same time. There’s been talk of the earth being thrown from its axis, mass earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other catastrophic events.
Although China’s 1.4 billion people are unlikely to ever synchronise the world’s greatest leap, many of them are stamping their feet and making businesses take notice.
Until recently, Chinese consumers had very few channels of recourse. Then the Internet became mainstream. Chinese consumers finally had a channel to make a public stand when things weren’t up to scratch. In 2011, after Weibo had reached a critical mass, a businessman in Qingdao was so disappointed with the service he received with his Lamborghini, he hired nine men wearing blue suits and hard hats to destroy the $650,000 supercar with sledgehammers. He captured the spectacle on film and it went viral. The stunt spurned countless copycats in China, who resorted to equally dramatic social media posts to share their poor experiences – to the horror of many poorly-prepared brands.
Another high profile example of Chinese consumers’ displeasure has arisen again, this time with Ikea, writing off much of the goodwill that the furniture giant had earned by providing public sleeping, dating and dining facilities. Following Ikea’s decision not to recall furniture in China as it did in the US and Canada following the death of at least six children in North America, the predictable PR-nightmare ensued. Consumers in Ikea’s fastest growing market expressed their anger on WeChat, Weibo and other online forums about China’s exclusion from recall. 69% of respondents accused Ikea of prejudice against Chinese consumers according to one survey. After the damage was done, Ikea backpedalled, offering refunds or assistance to anchor the deadly dressers and chests.
Where practical, keeping Chinese consumers happy is vital to success in the market. They are the world’s most avid social media contributors and a poor product experience, particularly from a foreign brand, will often spread like wildfire. They write more online reviews than any other country in the world – just look at the average ecommerce storefront. Chinese tourists write 42% of luxury travel reviews globally. China’s inherent lack of trust and research habits means other consumers read and take notice of those reviews more than their peers in any other country.
Providing effective customer service, and relevant responses to crises are often overlooked when developing marketing strategies for China, but one misstep can undo all of the other good work a brand has done. Understanding the Chinese consumer and how they respond to such events should be an important part of planning. China Skinny can assist with that. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.
Although there is a lot of hype about soaring demand for premium imported food and beverage from Chinese consumers, many brands are yet to see a profit in the market. Some of this comes down to the hyper-competitive nature of China’s marketplace, but it often stems from limited due diligence and poor delivery.
It’s not uncommon for exporters to get the obligatory China Food & Drug Administration (CFDA) approvals, find an importer/distributor who seems professional and speaks English, and expect to see profits rolling in after that. Unfortunately, these are usually just two small steps in the long journey to success in China.
Trademarking should be one of the first steps you take for your brand, even if you aren’t sure if and when you’ll enter China. Although foreign businesses are increasingly aware of the importance of trademarking their brand, some overlook creating and protecting a Chinese brand name. And even those who follow the right steps should be aware of phony firms who provide a fake registration certification, meaning that their brand isn’t protected at all.
Another important step is understanding your target market and their unique needs. Chinese consumers can vary immensely by demographic and the region they live in. Even the biggest brands are unable to reach China’s 1.35 billion people, and most only target a portion of the 150 million-odd urban middle and affluence class. So it’s best to understand which consumers are most likely to want and be able to afford your products, and localise and position your brand and products to best appeal to them. Note that perceptions of your products and their origins can often be quite different than you imagine, as this interesting analysis of European countries by Baidu autocomplete results illustrates.
Understanding your target market is also understanding the channels to best market and sell to them. That may include digital and traditional channels, and even touchpoints outside of Mainland China, which brands as varied as Hersheys and Yashili are using.
Once you have determined your target market, regions, marketing mix and sales channels, you’re much better placed to find a distributor who will best meet your needs. Although many distributors claim that they have nationwide coverage and are experts in online and offline channels, almost all distributors are only strong in one or two regions, and very few have any marketing nous, particularly in the digital space. Understanding your needs first will ensure that you ask the right questions and increase the likelihood of finding a distributor who covers the regions and channels that you’re targeting. China Skinny can assist with that.
For our readers in Australia’s Northern Territory, China Skinny’s Nadja Rauscher will be the keynote speaker and workshop chair at the Deliver to China Ecommerce Conference in Alice Springs on 10 May and Darwin on 11 May. Learn from on-the-ground experience about how to use digital channels to grow sales in China. For more info about the Alice Springs event click here and Darwin event click here. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.
After last year’s high profile gaffe by Burberry, when their special edition Chinese New Year scarf was mocked on social media, you’d think foreign brands would take extra care to ensure that their Lunar New Year-themed promotions were checked by Chinese experts before launching them. Think again.
Leading up to this year’s Spring Festival, there’s been the usual line-up of monkey and New Year-themed paraphernalia hoping to tap into China’s busiest shopping season. This year has seen its share of foreign brands miss the mark, mostly with monkeys that don’t appeal to Chinese, an unfortunate choice of font or even poorly considered characters. Here are a few that have been laughing stock on WeChat, Weibo and other media, circulated by accounts such as 齐鲁晚报.
Monkeys that Are Just All Wrong in China
Luis Vuitton’s wealth of experience in China didn’t seem to factor in when they designed the Monkey Crew Necklace to see in the New Year. Based on the unanimous mocking on Chinese social media, it may not be a top seller this Spring Festival. Some of the more humorous quotes included “Does this monkey come from other planet?” and “Even though I can’t afford this, I must say it’s ugly.”
Similarly, the choice of monkey on the ornamental Breguet Queen of Naples and the Piaget Altiplano’s watches have scared a good few online Chinese, claiming they looked too real, like they’d jump out at any second.
The Correct Chinese Typeface
Even Giorgio Armani has had its share of critics for their Chinese New Year highlighting palette. The red and black colours were popular and considered high quality, and some liked the monkey imprint, but no one liked the 福 (“fu” meaning fortune) character on the cover. To a Westerner it may look nice, but many Chinese claim it has no sense of design at all – looking to be taken straight out of a Word document. Chinese place great emphasis on the brush strokes of the “fu” in reference to the New Year, and this example clearly hasn’t.
The Fa Fu Faux Pas
The award for the biggest bungle of them all goes to our friends at Nike. In December, the brand launched a new pair of customized shoes, with a traditional Chinese character 發 (“Fa” meaning getting richer) on one shoe, and 福 (“Fu” meaning fortune arrives) on the other. The characters are perfect for Chinese New Year, but combining them together to make “Fa Fu” means getting FAT in Chinese! Obviously China’s social media has been buzzing for the wrong reasons since.
The day before the Fa Fu launch, Nike had released another Chinese New Year edition called “Nian Hua”, which is a traditional painting that Chinese buy for the Lunar New Year to bring good luck.
The consensus on Chinese social media was why would they put them on the white shoes, they are so ugly? A few of the better quotes included:
“OMG, why they are such ugly shoes?”
“Finally there is something equal to the GA Highlighting palette”
“Maybe the Westerners who can’t read Chinese would wear them pretending to be cool!”
Many others commented on the Chinese characters gave the impression that the shoes were fake.
Double Check it with an Expert
Even the big foreign brands make mistakes localising for Chinese culture, but there really is no excuse. Things that we assume in the West are often completely different in China. If you are localising for China from another country, or without a trained Mainland branding expert, ensure that you always run localisation ideas past a company like China Skinny who can provide professional advice to ensure you get it right. Happy New Year!
China’s online shoppers are showing the stamina of Ironmen. Less than three weeks after the Single’s Day frenzy, they were tapping and clicking up a storm for America’s Black Friday. Shopper’s Fatigue? Not the Chinese.
A recent Nielsen survey found 38% of shoppers in Tier 1 cities, and 27% in Tier 2 currently make cross border purchases online. This was confirmed on Single’s Day, when a third of all shoppers bought goods from an international brand or merchant. 88% of respondents are interested in buying from overseas next year according to Nielsen.
It’s hard for Chinese shoppers to miss America’s version for Single’s Day. Black Friday ads have been sprouting up across the major online platforms including QQ, Baidu, Taobao, Alipay and even Ctrip.
The #2015BlackFriday# hashtag on Weibo inspired 150,000 discussions and 450 million views by yesterday. Over 50,000 articles bombarded WeChat users covering deals and purchasing guides. In the week leading up to Black Friday, there were around 90,000 searches a day on Taobao for Black Friday, many looking for dàigòu – shopping agents, who could buy the discounted goods in the U.S.
Yet just having discounted goods is no sure way to attract Chinese shoppers. For a start, they need to be able to pay using the systems they like, such as Alipay. By far the fastest-growing Black Friday related search terms on Baidu were ‘Alipay Black Friday’ which grew 41,400% in the week and ‘Black Friday Alipay’ which grew 6,700%. Transactions through Alipay grew 700% on last year.
Cross border commerce is a great way to test if Chinese consumers want your goods before investing in a market entry. For example, boutique NY fashion house Otte opened a store in Shanghai after discovering China’s hearty appetite for their clothes, with over 50% of their export sales going to the Mainland. It’s a low-risk approach to test the market. As a starting point, contact China Skinny for a site audit to ensure your store and site are optimised to reach Chinese. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.