Why customisation matters to Chinese millennials

Chinese millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are a very attractive group to Western marketers. Not only are there 400 million of them (five times as many as US millennials), but they have already been dubbed as the next ‘super-consumers’ by Forbes. Here are some key things to know about this luxury-loving, increasingly affluent group:

1. The average Chinese millennial has no student debt and is already making $22,000 a year (as of 2021). 70% also own their own home.
2. This group has only known economic boom years in China, developing consumerist skills and aspirations to match! Around 70% list shopping as their favourite leisure activity.
3. Over 90% own a smartphone and most rely on digital services to shop, share, network and amuse themselves.
4. They are cashless and not prepared to queue – during Singles Day in 2017, Alipay handled 1.48 billion payments, of which 90% were made by phone.
5. They’re all about luxury goods and personalised experiences. This group are already driving 58% of luxury goods purchases (bearing in mind that the Chinese market overall is expected to represent 40% of global luxury goods sales by next year), and heading overseas to study at tripling volumes – particularly to the UK for Masters’ degrees, the US/Canada and Australia.

Where customisation comes into the mix

For this energetic, high-achieving generation, the pressure is on to look and be successful. As the first generation to grow up amongst material wealth within a boom culture, Chinese millennials are expected to build strong careers, buy their first home and be married by the time they are 30 – and luxury goods, overseas study and international travel are all ways that they can demonstrate their success and achievement.

Customisation is a key element here as this generation also wants to show its discernment, taste and comfort with top-of-the-range international products and services, such as fashion, electronics, experiences and higher degrees. Millennial customers love to display their nuanced and individualised sophistication, and smart brands are working hard to meet this demand with advanced personalisation techniques.

Customisation – whether that’s in the form of footwear or handbag designs or a bespoke travel experience – creates unique items that deliver a sense of cachet to this audience, and allows Chinese Millennial shoppers to express themselves in an individual way; something that is highly important to them, particularly in the age of social media.

This approach makes sense to brands too, especially in markets where there are ready global competitors offering similar products at similar price points. Young Chinese customers love heritage luxury and exciting breakthrough brands in equal measure – ‘me too’ brands just don’t cut it in the same way, so customisation offers that chance to create something meaningful and unique – not to mention something infinitely sharable online with friends and family, to display that sense of taste and success.

It’s interesting to see how the market is changing. Chinese luxury customers once loved loud branding and overt logos, but now they are moving beyond traditional designer brands. Research suggests for example that 86% of millionaires in China actively seek out customisation when buying luxury experiences and goods. Other studies suggest that the majority of millennial shoppers and high-net-work customers in China are now seeking out unique goods from niche and boutique labels, rather than big-name brands.

Case studies

Fendi offers online customisation options for made-to-order handbags with a choice of logo styles, colour options and hardware. Every bag is individually created for each customer, to offer a sense of unique luxury. Gucci has offered similar services with their online DIY collection, allowing customers to choose their fabric, embroidery and patches for certain products. However, the Gucci creative director has to sign off the finished request before it is made – further leveraging that sense of power, success and exclusivity. After all, how many customers can say they collaborated with a designer brand’s creative lead to produce their piece?

What this means for Western brands

If you can offer a degree of customisation, you have a far better chance of being relevant, enticing and on-trend in the Chinese millennial category. And there are various ways that you can give these discerning – and affluent young customers the personalised experiences and individuality they crave, recognising too that brand engagement at this stage can translate into long-term custom.

Strategies to consider:

1. Offer customisation options

Offer options for personalisation to some degree with your products and services. This could be in the form of physical attributes or the nature of the service with ‘pick and mix’ options. An example could be entirely customised travel itineraries or a designer makeup product in custom packaging and colours.

The key is to have a beautifully slick digital offering that enables this service and is perfectly optimised for experience, enjoyment and ‘single click’ fulfilment.

2. Limit the customisation offer by time

Upgrade the value of the customisation by making it scarce. For example, Burberry launched their DK88 bag with 18 options for customisation – but for only a very short period. Fans raced to get their hands on one before the limited service came to a close.

3. Consider the experience angle

Chinese consumers are spending more on experiences and lifestyle services, so many brands are factoring this in, especially with any offline/in-store presence. Again, Burberry offered a customised fragrance within their bespoke range, but only within a very small number of physical stores to enhance the collaborative, exciting interaction between brand and customer.

4. Limit the customisation offer by geography

Consider only offering customisation in certain markets. Some brands are testing marketing strategies whereby they don’t actually offer a certain customisation option in Mainland China, but in other select markets – knowing that this will entice interest from affluent Chinese Millennials to seek out the item abroad.

By combining a purchase with a travel experience, the customers experience a far greater degree of meaning and satisfaction, and they can share their travel experience with friends and contacts, again demonstrating their success, sophistication and ease of navigating the modern world. This can be an interesting strategy to consider after thorough research and analysis into your particular market, business plan and operating model, and Market Me China can support you with the necessary strategic development.

Get the help you need

For Western brands considering their options for customisation, the starting point is to really understand this market and to carefully pinpoint the right target audience within it. With the right market research and data, a sound and successful strategy can be created that offers sophisticated and highly engaging customisation options to these modern young consumers – whilst maintaining that high degree of luxury. With this kind of strategy, brands can enjoy high margins and build a powerful brand in the China market.

The route to success can be greatly aided with the help of an expert and experienced Chinese digital marketing agency. Market Me China offers a full spectrum of Chinese digital marketing services delivered by highly skilled native Chinese speakers with targeted expertise in their field. We work with clients from all across all industries to help them achieve the success that they need in this exciting, affluent and rapidly growing economy, and naturally, we are proud to evidence our results. Please contact us in the first instance for a no-obligation chat about your needs.