Reports

    In China, Valentine’s Day is for pets, beauty, gaming, according to Alimama report

    A new report by Alibaba’s Alimama outlines the top consumer trends of Valentine’s Day 2024. But with the holiday falling just days after Chinese New Year, should brands even participate?
    Photo: Bebe
      Published   in Retail

    Move over, Cupid. There’s another mythical creature taking over the month of February.

    With Valentine’s Day taking place just four days after Chinese New Year, Chinese shoppers are searching for products that symbolize both love and good fortune in the Year of the Dragon.

    According to Alibaba Group’s marketing platform Alimama, online searches and transactions for Chinese-style bracelets, ancient-style earrings, and fortune rings have increased. On social media, topics including keywords like “fortune-seeking” (招财) and “national style” (国风) have also surged in the lead up to February 14.

    But that’s not the only way Valentine’s Day 2024 is standing out from years past. On January 29, Alimama teamed up with Alibaba research platform CBNData and Taobao Hot Search to release a report breaking down the biggest consumption trends of the first love-themed holiday of the year. Here’s how brands can make their move this romantic season.

    Not just for lovers, V-day is also for treating your pets#

    It’s no secret that China is falling out of love with marriage. In 2022, only 6.83 million Chinese couples got married — less than half the number of marriages registered in 2013 — marking a record low since 1986. Many of those who aren’t married are choosing to stay single too; in a 2022 survey of about 80,000 Chinese college students, 42 percent said they were single and wanted to stay that way.

    Luckily, Valentine’s Day isn’t just for couples.

    “Local consumers consider this festival as a holistic moment to celebrate the love they have for their loved ones in the broadest sense,” explains Anaïs Bournonville, co-founder of French-Chinese marketing agency Reverse Group. “It’s not only about offering a gift to your wife or husband; it’s about showing your love to your family, friends, and pets.”

    “Local consumers consider this festival as a holistic moment to celebrate the love they have for their loved ones in the broadest sense.”

    In fact, “raising pets as babies” (养娃式养宠) is one of this year’s biggest trends, notes Alimama, with demand for kennels, matching pet costumes (宠物亲子装), pet photography sessions, and customized pet products rising on Taobao.

    One brand cashing in on China’s $55 billion (392 billion RMB) pet economy is Bebe. The American apparel maker released a limited edition Valentine’s Day pet gift box, enabling owners to wear matching pink clothes with their fur babies. On Taobao, merchants can be found selling knock-off pet-sized versions of Boy London and Essentials, among other brands.

    American apparel brand Bebe released a matching clothing set for pets and owners for Valentine’s Day. Photo: Bebe
    American apparel brand Bebe released a matching clothing set for pets and owners for Valentine’s Day. Photo: Bebe

    “The modern pet owners are now treating their pets like family,” says Bournonville. “Especially the younger generations who don’t hesitate to purchase luxury items for their pets with accessories from Gucci or Celine or finding the perfect balance between their personal daily purchase and what their pet could enjoy too, such as the McDonald’s cat bag that was sold in limited edition along with a McDonald’s menu.”

    “The luxury brands that propose a pet line must definitely explore this path in their Valentine’s Day activation. It could increase their (already high) sales on pet accessories and become a peak season for this assortment type,” she adds.

    Beauty boxes can’t be beat#

    Whether they’re for a loved one or oneself, beauty and skincare products are highly sought-after by Chinese consumers during the holidays. The Alimama report states that Taobao searches for lipsticks, perfumes, and home beauty devices spiked between January 8 and 14, naming the 31 Le Rouge Chanel collection and the Hermès perfume and lipstick gift set as popular choices this year.

    Betting on China’s prestige beauty market, brands like Givenchy, Christian Louboutin, Prada, La Mer, Estée Lauder, and YSL have released exclusive Valentine’s Day gift boxes, many of which are in the shape of a heart.

    Luxury beauty brands are packaging their bestselling products in heart-shaped boxes this Valentine’s Day. Photo: Givenchy, YSL
    Luxury beauty brands are packaging their bestselling products in heart-shaped boxes this Valentine’s Day. Photo: Givenchy, YSL

    But special editions like these are common. Brands that aim to stand out in China can experiment with more daring and playful displays of love, especially since Valentine’s Day is not as significant relative to the country’s other romantic occasions.

    “It might be prudent for brands to practice quiet luxury, where the packaging or item has a secondary life — be it a stand, an art piece that can be placed on a shelf, or allows for extensive customization,” says Humphrey Ho, Managing Partner of digital marketing agency Hylink Group.

    “Valentine’s Day can also be a virtual gift (AR/XR) that accompanies a physical gift, given the increased play that a brand can have versus Qixi, [which sees] more traditional displays of love,” he continues.

    From e-sports to outdoor sports, hobby-centric gifts are in#

    According to Alimama, young people aged 18-24 want gifts that are trendy and align with their hobbies (in contrast to the 35-and-up cohort, which typically focuses on gifts that improve happiness and quality of life).

    It’s no surprise that, given China’s population of 668 million gamers as of June 2023, game consoles and accessories are popular gifts this Valentine’s Day. Survival game Palworld (幻兽帕鲁), which had an early access version released on January 19, was also a hot search item on Taobao due to its global hype; on January 24, it surpassed 2 million concurrent players on Steam, making it the game with the second-largest number of simultaneous online players in the platform’s history.

    For those who need to disconnect and touch grass, skiwear, waterproof hiking pants, windproof jackets, and road bicycles are the perfect gifts. With an increasing focus on wellness and movement in China, consumers are blending Valentine’s Day with their love of sports, seeking practical equipment or outdoor activities to enjoy with their loved ones.

    On Xiaohongshu, brands like Fila and The North Face are promoting couples’ outdoor attire while camping grounds are advertising Valentine’s Day packages, such as an overnight tent and romantic barbecue for two.

    Outerwear and outdoor experiences are popular gifts this Valentine’s Day. Photo: Xiaohongshu
    Outerwear and outdoor experiences are popular gifts this Valentine’s Day. Photo: Xiaohongshu

    Overshadowed, or worth the investment?#

    But with Valentine’s Day falling just days after Chinese New Year and a few months shy of 520 and Qixi, which falls on August 10 this year, “consumer exhaustion and similarity of colors and branding might cause brands to not have the right solution,” Ho says. “However, digital gifts and quiet displays of love are definitely welcome.”

    With many consumers back home for Chinese New Year, Bournonville advises brands to target local shoppers with a broader concept of love. “This year again, many brands advertised the couple, but they should have used this festival as a way to leverage the love for family to gain a higher brand resonance.”

    “This year again, many brands advertised the couple, but they should have used this festival as a way to leverage the love for family to gain a higher brand resonance.”

    In other words, romance is not dead. Brands can use February 14 as a day to get creative with their product drops, strengthen customer loyalty, and even build up to bigger festivals like Qixi. That said, expectations should be managed; given the holiday’s placement on the calendar and its lack of Chinese cultural attributes, plus the country’s slowing economic growth, consumers may skip out on the celebration if the offers aren’t sweet.

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