BEIJING — Chinese consumers are becoming more like the rest of the world: more individualistic, more loyal to brands, and more self-indulgent, according to a new report by McKinsey & Company.

At the same time, the consultancy notes that there’s a growing divide between the more traditional Chinese consumers — those who spend a good deal of time in stores comparing products and who are highly conscious of value — and the “new mainstream consumers,” who tend to be young and live in top-tier coastal urban areas. This latter group of consumers tends to buy more global brands, be willing to spend more money on products that bring them emotional satisfaction, and increasingly seek out labor-saving items like pre-cooked food.

McKinsey singled out this “mainstream” group in a report last spring, saying these more affluent buyers would have a huge influence on buying habits and attitudes in the country overall in the next ten years. Its new report, “From Mass to Mainstream: Keeping Pace With China’s Rapidly Changing Consumers,” surveyed 10,000 Chinese people in 44 cities.

Companies have a double-edged challenge, note the study’s authors Yuval Atsmon, Max Magni, Amy Lin, and Lihua Li. They have to figure out ways to reach both traditional and these new mainstream customers, which means they’ll need “more diverse portfolios of brands and niche products,” including items that are highly functional as well as those that appeal to consumer’s emotions, the researchers concluded.

China’s massive scale means that even with an economy that is growing less rapidly than in previous years, the country’s “hundreds of millions of consumers” who are “still in the early stages of satisfying desires for goods and services that exceed basic needs” will continue to transform the market, the study concluded. For example, the share of urban households who make enough money to afford cars and small luxury items will jump to about 57 percent of all Chinese consumers by 2020, rising nearly sixfold from the current level.

Consumers are also spending more on leisure and entertainment, particularly in tier 1 cities along the eastern seaboard. And the younger consumers are spending more money on online shopping, with the electronic retailer Taobao reportedly expecting to sell more merchandise than Amazon and eBay combined this year.


Meanwhile, 40 percent of those surveyed described shopping as their favorite leisure activity, a jump from last year’s 35 percent.

Safety is still a concern, thanks to ongoing scandals with food and water safety. When the consumers were asked about factors influencing their purchase of chocolate, 57 percent citied “safety,” which was third only to “good taste” and “healthiness.”

At the same time, in markets like electronics where global brands have long dominated, Chinese brands are starting to get some traction. The Chinese flat-screen TV brands Changhong and Skyworth are increasingly recognized and sought by consumers, the report notes.