May 6, 2020
COVID-19 has triggered a seismic shift in how China’s consumers are prioritising their spending decisions and lifestyle choices. At CatchOn's "Catch the Experts" webinar held on 24 April 2020, our panel of brand and marketing experts weighed in on how the pandemic has changed Chinese consumers' views on health and wellbeing, and the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead.
The panel included Amrita Banta, Managing Director of Agility Research; James Chau, Host, China Current Goodwill Ambassador of WHO; Brad Burgess, Global Corporate Affairs of JD.com; and Coco Wang, Director of Marketing & Communications at Lane Crawford (China).
Self-care and wellness were already growing trends, but they were largely viewed as luxury. The pandemic made it a matter of life and death.
When the outbreak started, telemedicine through JD Health quickly became the way for consumers across China to address concerns. The e-commerce platform opened psychological channels for emotional support, which they then rolled out to the rest of the world. “Chinese people by nature are pragmatic and are extremely flexible in adapting new ways of living and technology,” says Burgess. He sees three aspects of health that have changed: mental, physical, and creative.
An internal JD.com research using big data showed that over 70% of Chinese people struggle with insomnia with over 50% of respondents born after 1990. Burgess pointed to this insight as an opportunity for brands seeking to have purpose by addressing the bigger needs of their consumers. Shopping data also pointed to greater interest in physical, creative well-being and hobbyism with a spike in sales in baking tools (332% increase), multi-purpose knives, woks, and pots. Sales of yoga mats on JD.com’s first-party stores also increased by nearly 142% year-on-year, on par with the boom in live streaming fitness programs.
Banta has also seen this trend across the affluent set. Agility Research has been conducting one-on-one interviews with high net worth individuals and there has been an increase in sentiment surrounding health and wellbeing as well as philanthropy. Banta cites not only physical health but also spiritual health as something on the rise. “We saw an increase in attention to donations and while views towards economic conditions didn’t change, our interviewees’ interest in philanthropy accelerated as the impact of the virus got deeper.”
From Profit to Purpose
There is a growing expectation from China’s consumers for brands to do good. “Brands have a unique opportunity to play a role in the global landscape when governments have failed us, and we live in a failed world right now. These brands can easily step in and lead as the gathering points and community makers of like-minded people with similar values. The key is to do it with sincerity. Your consumers and future consumers will remember it when the crisis passes,” says Chau.
Banta also agrees that brands must communicate in a non-transactional manner with companionship and connection being the focus.
Cloud Living and Technology
Brands have reacted to the pandemic by engaging with their customers online. JD has had several luxury heritage brands launch products online during this pandemic. While luxury brands moving to ecommerce isn’t anything new, Burgess sees the virus as a catalyst that has pushed opportunities further down the road to the forefront. JD is applying research and technology to a variety of scenarios much faster these days from logistics, autonomous robots doing delivery to drones disinfecting community areas to launching products via livestreams. As a result, “Live streaming in 2020 comes to a new place of integration with the focus on the combining fun with quality experiences,” says Burgess.
Banta agrees and points to the trend of cloud living, where entire social lives are now taken online from cloud gyming, cloud cooking to cloud birthday parties. Video conferencing is no longer limited to the conference room but has become an essential tool for human connections in a time of social isolation.
According to Banta, one rising trend that will have global implications is the continued rise of Asian brands fuelled by nationalism or “Asian Pride.”
“There is praise towards how the Chinese have handled the crisis and how businesses are resuming while the rest of the world is still suffering. We also see this in other Asian nations like South Korea. There will be an increase in Asian pride that seeps into the rest of the world leading to more respect for the creativity that comes out of Asia,” predicts Banta.
Wang agrees and cited examples where Lane Crawford has been promoting local designers to support the creative community in China. Chau also agrees that we live in an era of nationalism, and the humble and pragmatic characteristics of Asians are favourable.
In terms of other trends, Banta pointed out that minimalism will be a big hit – and Gen Z will be coined Gen Zen. The virus has given the world a period of reflection and Banta predicts that consumers will have more purposeful consumption. Chau thinks that this also applies to the luxury industry and designers post-COVID-19 will be more discerning on what’s pushed out, “there will be a shift towards small capsules and doing it in a right way with a reflective message,” he says.
To view the webinar, go to https://youtu.be/ryi6sZacShI
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