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Five key China consumer trends in 2018

Social stress, traditional Chinese philosophy, self-expression and AI are set to merge and mould the consumer market in China next year, according to research house Mintel.

The company has revealed five key China consumer trends it believes will impact on the market – and by their definition, it is set to create a marketplace truly unique internationally.  

Mintel’s five key China consumer trends are:

Machine learning and AI: Consumers will embrace machine learning and artificial intelligence – as long as it makes their lives easier and they are permitted to opt-in or opt-out.

Social stress: Young consumers will be actively looking for ways to deal with the social stress they experience on a daily basis through playful and novel interactions.

Going traditional: Brands that tap into traditional native Chinese philosophy, remedies and forms of exercise in product formulation and marketing messages will find success.

Self-expression: Consumers will be more engaged with brands that offer products and services that allow them to enhance who they really are, and experiment and express themselves however they choose.

Mobile or bust: Consumers will look negatively on brands that do not offer mobile alternatives and will view them as not forward-thinking and disinterested in maintaining customer support.

Mintropolitans appreciate AI

Delon Wang, manager of trends, Asia Pacific with Mintel, says consumers are gaining exposure to different uses for machine learning and are beginning to have positive experiences with the technology. According to Mintel research, 46 per cent of Chinese Mintropolitans (aged 20-49) are interested in learning about their household habits, suggesting that they appreciate the power of technology in monitoring, analysing and reporting.

“Such technology is able to learn about an individual’s unique personality and preferences in order to create customised experiences,” explains Wang.

“Consumers will generally prefer opt-in choices and are likely to embrace machine learning if it makes their lives easier. As the desire for a seamless lifestyle becomes universal, we will see more aspects of life being incorporated with machine learning capabilities. Supporting consumers desire for individuality and autonomy, we will see more personalised services and products available through AI and machine learning in the months and years to come,” adds Wang.

Pressure play

Higher levels of social stress are driving China’s youngest generations to demand more informal and playful interactions in both the virtual and physical world, explains Matthew Crabbe, director of research, Asia Pacific with Mintel.

“Not only in the digital world, but also in the physical world, young consumers are embracing less rigid and more playful ways to engage with their surroundings, which helps them feel more relaxed in social circumstances,” he says.

An increasingly popular form of escape, many are fleeing to the virtual world to interact with friends and even strangers. According to Mintel research, 63 per cent of 20-24 year olds say they play online games to relieve stress.

“Looking ahead, the youngest generations will be actively looking for ways to deal with the social stress they experience on a daily basis. On the one hand, consumers will embrace more activities that they can do by themselves without the pressure of relying on other people; on the other hand, they will want novel and playful solutions, both online and offline, that can help them to strengthen their relationship with the people around them,” says Crabbe.

The balanced life

Crabbe says Chinese consumers increasingly understand the balance between their own health and that of the environment, and are demanding greener, healthier life solutions from brands.

“Consumers are increasingly in search of healthier, happier and more balanced lives. They want antidotes to urban congestion and environmental pollution, and greener, more people-friendly cities.”

Mintel research shows 58 per cent of Chinese Mintropolitans say they are willing to pay more for ethical brands.

“However, consumers’ motives lie not in the pursuit of egalitarian principles, rather they are after benefits for their own health.

“Next year, consumers will prioritise better quality products that offer them greater personal life-enhancing benefits and make them feel good about their choice to support a brand that claims to offer a better balance with nature. Brands that demonstrate how the ethics behind their product or service provide concrete benefits to consumers, their families and their neighbourhoods will tap into this growing trend,” says Crabbe.

Being me

Joyce Lam, trends analyst, Asia Pacific with Mintel, says that in seeking to express their individuality, consumers are absorbing alternative lifestyle influences and experiences from a globally connected community.

“Chinese consumers are becoming involved in creative work, choosing flexible working arrangements, travelling to unusual places, and living unconventional lives – including the 41 per cent of teens who say they would like to live in an unconventional way – all the time absorbing new influences. New technologies are accelerating this process, bringing ever more choice to consumers, and giving them more scope to explore their own sense of self,” says Lam.

“As consumers become more individualistic, the challenge for brands is to respond to their individual needs.

“As growing incomes expand consumers’ product choices, they are empowered to choose between brands that offer products that help them express their individuality from around the world. Looking ahead, more brands will offer products and services that allow consumers to enhance who they really are, and allow them to experiment and express themselves however they choose.”

All we need is mobile

Mobile devices are blurring the lines of formality and consumers are embracing this change for the convenience it brings.

Wang says the speed and convenience of mobile technology is causing more and more Chinese consumers to rely on it in various parts of their lives.

According to Mintel, 87 per cent of Chinese consumers in tier 1-3 cities used mobile payments in 2017 – up from 69 per cent the year before.

“Mobile devices and apps have now entered the space of formality, and what would have once required face-to-face interaction or physical official documentation has now succumbed to the popularity of this multi-functional and portable technology,” says Wang.

“Looking forward, consumers will become comfortable with the idea of everything – regardless of how formal or official it may be – being available via mobile and will question brands that are unable to provide this option.

“Eventually, virtual reality and AR will integrate with the mobile interactive space, complementing one another and enabling consumers to gain greater work-life efficacy and multi-tasking capability,” concludes Wang.

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