Generational Christmas Shopping in China

    Though Christmas isn’t an official holiday in China, it hasn’t spared China from its consumerism. How can retailers engage these generational consumers?
    In regard to their gift choices, Chinese Gen Zers are more inclined to buy presents that have a strong national identity. Photo: Balenciaga. Illustration: Haitong Zheng/Jing Daily.
    Adina-Laura AchimAuthor
      Published   in Finance

    Although Christmas isn’t an official holiday in China, the soft power influence of this Western holiday hasn’t spared China from its consumerism and Christmas cheers, especially with the large expat communities in Hong Kong, Macao, and tier-1 cities in mainland China.

    Considering that in more recent times the image of Santa Claus — whom the Chinese refer to as Shen Dan Lao Ren — has grown in popularity across China, brick-and-mortar stores and online retail sites have all gotten into the Christmas spirit, trying to pursue buyers to shop through exclusive events, competitive offers, and engaging shopping experiences.

    There are, however, substantial differences between how American and Chinese consumers shop for the holidays. While Gen Zers in the U.S. are projected to spend the least of all generations, in China, they represent a leading consumer group. And according to the 2019 Holiday Purchase Intentions Survey from The NPD Group, American “Gen Zers are less likely than millennials and Gen X to shop online,” as they prefer to head to brick-and-mortar stores and malls. On the other hand, Gen Zers in China are expected to use various shopping methods, constantly interchanging online and offline.

    Given this, Jing Daily takes a look at how retailers can engage every generation of consumers in China.

    Chinese Millennials#

    Chinese millennials

    are the backbone of luxury consumption. This is a 415 million consumer base that represents almost 31 percent of China’s population


    According to a study by Goldman Sachs, “Chinese millennials approach spending with preferences and behaviors often radically different from their parents.” In fact, Goldman Sachs states that Chinese millennials aspire “to live the global lifestyle.”

    This international mindset and their singular digital upbringing makes them intelligent shoppers who feel confident about their buying decisions. Along with their self-validation, however, comes an even heavier reliance on peer approval. In fact, millennials turn to social media, technology-assisted resources, and content creators to enhance their knowledge of the market, verify products, read reviews, and interact with influencers and social media celebrities who are seen as experts. In fact, McKinsey’s China Luxury Report 2019, highlights that 54 percent of the post-‘80s/‘90s respondents consult peer reviews compared with only 33 percent of post-‘65s/‘70s shoppers. Even more, "76.6% of millennials in China create original content for their own online channel at least once a week, compared with 41.8% in the U.S.,” says eMarketer.

    Interestingly enough, despite their digital fervor, Chinese millennials still prefer offline purchases. “They want to see, smell and touch the brand experience,” says Adyen. Besides their fondness for digital discovery, millennials seek a cohesive brand experience, whether they interact with the brand online or offline, and expect an engaging, authentic experience. In regard to what they shop for, Adyer reports that “Chinese millennials aren't interested in stockpiling iconic labels,” though equally important, Chinese millennials are individualistic and have a “self-directed mindset.”

    Chinese Gen Z#

    Corporate responsibility, social justice, activism, and sustainability are concepts that resonate with the “woke” Gen Z. As the most socially engaged generation, Gen Zers look for brands and products that echo their aspirations. Organic, sustainable, GMO-free, and natural goods are found on the shopping-card of this demographic. And although they pursue a rather idealistic world view, brands should avoid ridiculing their aspirations. In fact, advertising stereotypes will deter the entire relationship with Gen Zers.

    “Chinese Generation Z spends an average of 2 hours and 43 minutes a day on social media,” states Daxue Consulting. It’s not surprising that the media has nicknamed them the “Internet Generation” as they do love to purchase products online.

    Warc and Accenture report that up to 70 percent of Chinese Gen Zers “prefer to buy products directly via social media compared to a global average of 44 percent.” Furthermore, China Daily states that 33 percent prefer live-streaming sites as sources of discounts and sales. They are also used to fast service. According to reports, 34 percent of Chinese Gen Zers demand same-day shipping, while another 27 percent demand instant delivery.

    In regard to their gift choices, Chinese Gen Zers are more inclined to buy Christmas presents that have a strong national identity. Growing up in years of economic boom, the Gen Zers are proud of their country’s success and have embraced a streak of patriotism. Unsurprisingly, brands that pay tribute to Chinese culture are in high demand with this group.

    Silver Foxes (aged 60 and older)#

    According to Daxue Consulting, “by the end of 2018, China had nearly 250 million people aged 60 and above, accounting for 17.9% of the total population.” This demographic presents an incredible opportunity for brands.

    And as a relatively neglected consumer base, “they are eager to spend money in different areas, from elderly care service to luxury tour packages,” says Daxue Consulting. In fact, 40 percent of Chinese retirees are able to pay for luxury vacation packages.

    But where do they shop?#

    Surprisingly, even the so-called Silver Foxes enjoy online shopping. Again, according to Daxue Consulting, “It has become the new favorite past time of China’s older generation when 92 percent of them prefer to shop online.” Western brands, however, still haven’tcome up with a comprehensive marketing strategy that addresses this segment. In fact, retailers are too focused on millennials and Gen Z to spotlight this wealthy and underserved Baby Boomer generation — but this is turning into a costly mistake.

    For example, Western brands should follow in Alibaba’s footsteps. The group released an "elderly-friendly" version of its app for this aging Chinese segment. As for actual shopping, China’s senior population spends differently than younger generations. Most baby boomers are against frivolous spending, so they acquire goods and services that bring a series of added benefits to their lives. Vacation packages, physical fitness, and healthcare are in high demand with this demographic.

    Moreover, given the significant differences between these demographic groups, it’s surprising that marketers still don’t have a clear approach

    or the right message for each of these consumer segments. Given this, only brands that steer clear of stereotypes will connect with the various Chinese consumer segments and thrive in such a dynamic market like China — especially for Christmas.

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