Yinan Chen is currently a second-year Ph.D. student in international relations and a research assistant in fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware. Her research compares eastern Confucian-based societies and western liberal-based societies on trade and business issues, environmental issues, and human rights issues. Chen represents an increasingly influential group of young people in China. She was born in Mainland China, grew up in a medium-sized city in northern China, and has lived in Shanghai for the past eight years.
China’s population of young consumers is massive. According to a yearly report from the National Bureau of Statistics of China (China Statistical Yearbook, 2007), there are more than 250 million people in China between the ages of 15 and 29. They were born after China instituted its one-child policy in the late 1970s and grew up in the context of China launching its economic reforms and opening up to the world outside.
This young generation enjoys a staggering amount of purchasing power in China. The major reason for this is that since most of them were the only child in the family, they were cherished and spoiled by “six pockets” (i.e., two parents and four grandparents) as they grew up. A study by McNeal and Yeh (1997) confirms that a large portion of Chinese parents often gave in to “reasonable” demands from children. Therefore, these young consumers were treated as “little emperors” who triggered a large portion of the family’s consumption.
Young Chinese consumers not only have money, they have their own perspectives on how to spend money. This group is dramatically different from other age groups in China in terms of habits, lifestyles, and ideology. They tend to be less tradition-bound and are quicker to accept and create new environments. Based on the author’s own experience, consumers in this age cohort tend to be excited about the Formula One world championship; they love McDonald's and ice cream; they are big fans of roller coasters and video games; they go in flocks to see Hollywood premieres; they go to bars at night for fun; and they are anxious to know the winners of the Cannes Film Festival and the Oscars. What’s more, almost everyone uses cell phones, and they are deeply attracted to cutting-edge digital products like the Internet, laptops, cameras, GPS, and Bluetooth.
According to Zhang and Shavitt (2003), who conducted research on the Chinese X-Generation, the power of young consumers in China can be seen in the fact that they have become important mass media and advertising targets. Young consumers in China are easily influenced by advertising, especially when familiar celebrities are endorsers. For this generation, endorsements by highly popular stars themselves can guarantee the quality and prestige of the products.
An appealing design or impressive narrative in an advertisement can also exert much weight on young people’s assessment of the product. In addition, they are deeply embedded in a word-of-mouth purchasing culture, which means that references from friends are very influential on their decision-making process. Sometimes, members of their social group can be more influential than powerful advertisements.
Young consumers value fashion more than any other age group. Many of them are fascinated with hip-hop and street dance, and most young consumers subscribe to fashion magazines and write blogs. More than ever, consumers in this age group are concerned with fashion and brand symbolism, and their dress must follow fashion trends.
The most popular type of apparel to the majority of Chinese young people are sportswear and jeans. And according to the World Executive Database (2007), Nike, Adidas, Converse, Puma, and New Balance are highly popular foreign sports brands for this group. Levi’s, Lee, Only, and Vero Mada are the most popular international jean brands among young Chinese consumers. Among all the domestic sports bands, Li-Ning ranks as the number-one brand, increasingly challenging foreign brands and becoming more and more popular among young Chinese.
Furthermore, young females in China are heavy spenders on cosmetics and skin care products. According to a survey from Asia Times Online (Newham 2006), the average consumption of beauty products by young Chinese females accounts for 10 percent or more of their annual income. Most of them are fans of foreign brands such as Olay, Maybelline, L’Oreal, AuprĂ¨s, Mininurse, and Mentholatum. And some female consumers prefer to buy top world-class brands such as LancĂ´me, Shiseido, Dior, Chanel, and Clinique, which are very popular and well-known among China’s young women. Although these top brands cost more, they believe that using top brands shows their sophisticated taste for beauty, which is perceived to reflect a woman’s inner beauty.
Among all the purchases in China’s youth market, the symbolism culture is most strongly evidenced in young people's apparel preferences. Most of them prefer to pay higher prices for top brands because of the belief that owning top brands conveys prestige and status (“Success in China,” 2007). This symbolism culture can also be applied to the marketing of luxury fashion goods in China. For young people, the main luxury purchases consist of smaller personal items such as apparel and accessories; they are not yet capable of purchasing big-ticket items such as cars. In purchasing luxury brands, young people are generally less pragmatic than the average Chinese consumer because they value the symbolism and want to show others that they have a good life and good taste.
Although young consumers are less tradition-bound, craving fashionable and famous brands, they are still restricted by some Chinese traditional values and beliefs, such as balancing quality, price, and utility. The combination of traditional and modern ways manifests itself in young consumersâ€™ choices of what they wear and their apparel purchasing preferences and patterns. As much as young consumers crave fashionable brands and foreign products, they do not blindly buy Western brands or recklessly chase luxury symbols. Rather, they are savvy shoppers who look for quality at a good price.
In sum, young Chinese consumers are the most active, energetic, and influential members of China’s booming economy. They represent the rapid changes undergone in Chinese society, and they are going to shoulder the responsibility of building China’s future in various fields. As we recognize this consumer group as defining China’s new consumption patterns in taste and spending, new opportunities arise to target and meet their needs. Young Chinese consumers continue to have a significant impact in forming the world’s view of China as an exciting and dynamic marketplace.
References1. China Dtatistical Yearbook. 2007. National Bureau of Statistics of China. Retrieved November 4, 2008, from http://www.stats.gov.cn/tjsj/ndsj/2007/indexeh.htm.