Companies looking to target the middle- to upper-middle-class Chinese consumer shopping online need to understand that a typical mass approach isn’t going to work in China.
That’s the conclusion in the latest study on “A Tale of Two Consumers” from the Boston Consulting Group China Center for Consumer and Customer Insight. The survey on consumer sentiment is conducted annually.
According to the study, there are two online consumers in China. Middle- to upper-middle-class households comprise the largest group, dubbed the “high-speed” consumer. They are the bulk of online shoppers in China, generating $1.7 trillion of the $3.2 trillion in total urban consumption anticipated in China for 2015. As incomes rise, this group will be responsible for nearly 90 percent of the increase in Chinese consumption by 2020, BCG said.
The other group is the “low-speed” consumer, those in the less affluent category. This group will grow by just 3 percent annually from 2015 to 2020.
While companies looking to sell in China should be targeting the high-speed consumer, using the typical mass approach isn’t going to work, BCB said. That’s because of the “81 million high-speed households, 46 million are located in lower tier cities,” the study noted. To reach everyone, BCG said companies will need to have a presence in 530 cities to reach 80 percent of the high-speed households, and by 2020, they will need to be in 615 cities. The 81 million high-speed households are expected to rise to 142 million in 2020, and will generate about $3.8 trillion of the $5.6 trillion in total urban consumption projected.
The research conducted by BCG also found that 40 percent of affluent households shop online at least once a week. Frequent online shoppers are younger and more affluent, and they like to buy in all channels. These frequent shoppers also said they plan to increase their spending over the next year, with 58 percent indicating they do not have enough things and want to buy more.
And in the latest survey, only 27 percent of Chinese households surveyed said were saving for reasons of “general precaution.” That’s a decline from the 46 percent who said they were saving as a precaution two years ago. Further, Chinese consumers pay more attention to rising incomes than to slowing economic growth when making purchasing decisions, survey results indicated.
The above key factors led BCG to conclude that consumer firms marketing to Chinese consumers have an “unparalleled opportunity to convince these middle-class consumers and above to spend more and save less. Each 1 percent reduction in the savings rate among high-speed consumers will generate $30 billion in additional spending.”
BCG noted that the $30 billion in additional spending is the equivalent of 0.3 percent GDP growth. Should the middle- and upper-middle-class consumers reduce their savings rate from 38 percent to the urban average of 32 percent, the “high-speed urban consumers would unlock $165 billion in spending and 1.7 percentage points in GDP growth. That’s equivalent to adding the consumer spending of Finland or Portugal to the economy,” BCG concluded.
To be sure, not all categories are benefiting equally from consumption growth. Food safety issues have meant an increasing willingness to spend on organic or fresh fruits. And while consumers said they do not intend to spend more on luxury items, the do intend to spend more on personal products such as apparel and skin-care products.