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Asian women gaining retail power

Image of women shopping
Asia will overtake the US to become the world’s largest e-commerce market in 2015. Photo: Bigstock

Asian females are “on the rise and online” according to a report based on a survey of 5500 consumers, released by Vipshop and The Economist Intelligence Unit.

The report is a veritable treasure trove of information examining the psyche and influence of women who shop online in Asia,

The people surveyed came from major urban areas in Greater China, India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, and included consumer analysts, major retailers and brand owners in addition to shoppers.

Asia will overtake the US to become the world’s largest eCommerce market next year, according to the report. The EIU estimates retail sales in Asia will grow by 4.6 per cent in volume to US$7.6 trillion next year. In contrast, North American growth will lag at 2.5 per cent and in Europe at just 0.8 per cent

Vipshop is the largest online discount retailer for brands both in China and globally and describes itself as “the No.1 female-oriented vertical eCommerce retailer in China”. The Economist Intelligence Unit is part of the Economist Group which includes the business magazine.

The study found that women are driving the growth of online shopping in the region, with many now preferring online to offline. Among survey respondents, 63 per cent browse the Internet at least once a day for products and services, with nearly 30 per cent doing so twice or more per day. Slightly fewer than 80 per cent of women regionally buy groceries online, 83 per cent for cosmetics and the figure rises to nearly 90 per cent for clothing and accessories.

“Women are a unique and important driving force in the Asian market. And at Vipshop, over 80 per cent of the accumulative 90 million members are females, who contribute to 90 per cent of our sales,” said Eric Shen, chairman and CEO of Vipshop.

Perhaps most troubling for retailers focused on the brick-and-mortar business, nearly half – 49 per cent, of women polled ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ they preferred the experience of shopping online to doing so in stores. The figure was as high as 69 per cent in mainland China.

Additional key findings from the report:

  • Women in Asia’s major cities are increasingly empowered. Region-wide, 43 per cent of the women responding to the survey were in managerial, executive or professional services jobs, while 83 per cent contribute to household income.
  • Most women are in charge of budgeting decisions on cosmetics (81 per cent), clothing and accessories (73 per cent), groceries (67 per cent) and maternity and children’s products (57 per cent), and they are at least co-decision makers in most other product categories like electronics and travel services.
  • At least on the Internet, many Asian women do not seem to be living up to the stereotype of selfless, family-focused individuals. Over 62 per cent of women are buying for themselves most of the time when shopping online; in mainland China that rate rises to 74 per cent, and to 77 per cent among 18-29 year olds.
  • Women have a variety of reasons to prefer online shopping. Most point to cost (62 per cent) and time (60 per cent) savings, but they also feel that online retailers can be relied upon to have the products they want to buy (59 per cent), and they appreciate the range of choice online shopping offers (56 per cent).
  • When choosing an online retailer, women say price (83 per cent) is important or very important, but so are quality (83 per cent), genuine products (82 per cent) and convenience (77 per cent).
  • Getting the messaging right will be tricky. While messages that address them as independent, intelligent consumers were found appealing to 56 per cent of women, 54 per cent said they found messages addressing them as wives, mothers or girlfriends to be attractive.
  • The future of online shopping looks mobile and impulsive. 58 per cent of the youngest (18-29) demographic surveyed shop online with their smartphones at home, versus 38 per cent of 40-49 year olds. While overall some 43 per cent reported spending more money online than they do in physical shops, again the rates among those 18-29 were even higher (56 per cent). Over half of women 18-29 year olds agreed that they were more likely to buy impulsively online.

Laurel West, editor of the report, said women are controlling spending in a variety of categories where you would expect them to, such as clothing and accessories, cosmetics and groceries.

“But they also have an increasing influence in bigger ticket items such as electronics. Many brands are realising this and making efforts to better understand what is important to female consumers.”

According to the EIU report, Asian women regard “quality (83 per cent), price (83 per cent) and genuine products (82 per cent) as the top three factors when they choose online retailers. The EIU report also reveals women have dominant online spending control in the buying of clothing and accessories, cosmetics, maternity and children’s products, and home goods.

Tony Feng, VP of Vipshop, said at the survey launch press conference: “At Vipshop, we are continually pushing ourselves to deliver the best products and services in the best format, and this study is born from these efforts aimed at the rapidly growing women’s market. It showcases our determination to go further in focusing our resources on better understanding and creating bigger innovations and deploying them at scale in areas where we want to win.”

Readers can view the full report here

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