How has Covid reshaped Chinese shopping and consumption habits?

There’s no doubt that the Covid pandemic has rapidly reshaped the way that consumers shop and consume products across the world – sometimes accelerating slow-burning trends, and sometimes creating entirely new markets overnight. So how have Chinese shopping and consumption habits evolved over the past year?

Optimism and growth

In its deep-dive report into the post-Covid Chinese economy (source: China consumer report 2021 – Understanding Chinese Consumers: Growth Engine of the World), consulting giant, McKinsey reminds Western marketers that China is placed to remain the world’s economic engine. Firstly, its consumers are more optimistic than in other parts of the world (50% reporting optimism, compared to 22% in the USA), and they have reason to be, as China has managed to gain a tight degree of control over further Covid outbreaks, even as other governments battle their second and even third waves.

Digital is accelerating

Secondly, the Chinese middle classes were already affluent, sophisticated and actively buying Western products and services before the pandemic, and the growing shift to digital marketing and eCommerce has only heightened this trend. Yes, overseas travel is limited – but China’s travel fans are already researching their next international trip. Yes, Western universities have moved a large degree of their provision online – but again, Chinese customers have the technology, the appetite and the readiness to engage with high-quality digital learning. And when it comes to eCommerce, the nation already leads the way with its greatly advanced digital infrastructure, which was perfectly poised to handle the migration to socially distance online shopping on a mass scale.

So let’s look at some of the main trends emerging in China as a result of Covid:

55% of Chinese customers say that they expect to keep buying groceries online.
Beauty brands have also done exceptionally well online, leveraging their existing digital presence and ramping up their social engagement on platforms such as WeChat to better reach customers.
25% of customers tried remote learning and tutoring for their children in lockdown – something that Western education brands will do well to capitalise on in the longer term, as McKinsey’s research suggests that online learning is a trend set to stay.
Similarly, Chinese customers began to heavily engage in other digital services such as online fitness programming and video chat, offering interesting opportunities to Western brands. The Chinese fitness app, KEEP, used Q&A fitness tools to achieve 56 million Chinese customer views in just one week!
Naturally, food and beverage sales migrated heavily online during the crisis, but – again – McKinsey expects to see the ‘at home’ entertaining trend to remain strong into the future, in line with Western consumer trends post-Covid. Tsingtao used the pandemic lockdown to launch a no-contact delivery service across 300 cities with a huge level of success.

Customer behaviour trends

Other shifts in Chinese buying behaviour are being noted too. For example, Chinese shopping and consumption habits after Covid are more influenced by trust and product safety. Chinese customers are more concerned about their health and wellbeing than before the virus and are keen to continue to invest in positive lifestyles. 45% of Chinese customers are also doing more research before they buy products (in a nation already renowned for doing its post-product research carefully!) Western marketers can use this insight to provide rich, meaningful product descriptions and quality assurances that give Chinese customers trust and reassurance that they are buying authentic, high-quality products from reputable brands.

It’s also interesting to note that brand trust is becoming more important, along with the propensity to switch. A third of Chinese customers switched to a fresh brand during the pandemic, and 82% began buying from a brand because of the way that it carried out social, ethical and compassionate business practices during the pandemic. Again, these are interesting new directions that mirror growing trends in the West for ethical, sustainable business.

Takeaways for Western brands

Whatever your sector, now is certainly the time to invest in market research to understand how Covid has impacted on your business, your competitor landscape and your target customer audience. This is valuable to do before making any adjustments to your marketing strategy, to inform your next steps.

Certainly, digital marketing and e-commerce channels will continue to grow rapidly in China, and it looks as though Covid has accelerated this shift even more! Brands should be viewing their online strategy in China as a core part of their delivery model and look at omnichannel marketing strategies with clear digital key performance indicators to measure success.

Brands that operate in China must assess how they blend online and offline channels, including the use of e-commerce market places, direct-to-consumer channels, physical channels and social commerce, ascertaining whether each channel is being used to drive sales, to build brand awareness or to engage customers. This will assist with budget allocation.

Now is also a good time to review supply chains and check that existing supply networks are robust and ready to move ahead after the challenging year.

More broadly, this is also the time to begin thinking as broadly and creatively as possible as we approach a changing world and one where people have been greatly affected by Covid-19. Brands that spend time blue-sky thinking at this stage, carrying out targeted research and looking at case studies of what other innovative companies are doing well will find themselves well equipped to build a successful presence in China.

The help that you need

Market Me China is here to help you to succeed with your Chinese digital marketing – whatever your industry, experience or current position in the Chinese market. Our digital marketing professionals blend native language skills with rich digital experience in fields that span Chinese website build and optimisation, Baidu PPC advertising, Baidu SEO, social media development and advertising, KOL engagement, ePR, digital content management, market research and more.

We work remotely with our clients as required and evidence our results at every stage to demonstrate the value that we add to your brand. Please contact us in the first instance for a no obligation chat about your needs and we will be delighted to assist.