Pandemic shapes Chinese consumer values, attitudes and behaviors
People express national pride, look beyond material wealth
In over a decade of remarkable economic expansion, China rebalanced its economic engine from production to consumption, continuing to drive steady growth, although at a slower place. Then in January, during the Chinese New Year, a period of peak consumption, the government suddenly applied the brakes, locking down Wuhan to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Three months later, when the economy began to reopen, the abrupt rupture of everyday life had left Chinese consumers reconsidering their values and habits. As life resumes to some semblance of normality, the pandemic experience is influencing where Chinese shop, what they buy, how they use media, and their relationship with brands, according to Kantar research.
Post-pandemic the importance of patriotism or national pride has increased. Simultaneously, the importance of wealth has diminished, which also aligns with another ongoing trend, the effort to find greater balance between work and personal time as Chinese society adjusts to recent prosperity and enjoying material well-being becomes as important as achieving it. Priorities vary by demographic group and city tier, according to Kantar’s China MONITOR.
Of the 24 categories examined in the BrandZ™ China Top 100 report, none was immune to the immediate impact of the pandemic, but the severity and duration varied. In some hygiene-related categories demand initially spiked, in other less essential categories it plummeted. Similarly, when the restrictions relaxed, some categories experienced a surge in demand while others anticipated a slower recovery.
Across categories, prognosis for brands going forward depends on anticipating shifts in consumer values, attitudes, and behaviors that will impact brand selection and purchasing. Ongoing Kantar research initiatives have been tracking consumers since the onset of the pandemic.
China MONITOR findings indicate the changing values and attitudes of Chinese consumers that will impact shopping habits. Because of the pandemic, 71 percent of Chinese consumers say they expect to be more frugal and 72 percent said that non-materialistic pursuits have increased in importance.
Cautioned by the pandemic about the need to live in harmony with nature, 72 percent of Chinese—more in Tier 1 cities—said they would pay more for environmentally healthy products, China MONITOR found. Similarly, 75 percent told Covid-19 Barometer that environmentally friendly products and services had become more important during the pandemic.
The pandemic also reminded people to take better care of their personal health, with 79 percent saying they will pay more attention to their health and the health of their families, according to China MONITOR.
China’s response to the pandemic reinforced feelings of national pride that surged during 2019, around the celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. Almost two-thirds of consumers told China MONITOR they would like to express their national pride by buying Chinese-made products whenever possible.
Given all of these shifts in consumer values, attitudes and behaviors, some clear expectations for companies emerge. When the Covid-19 China Barometer asked people what companies should do during immediate pandemic recovery period, they overwhelmingly responded that the companies should protect employee health and maintain a safe and hygienic workplace.
Kantar research detected significant pent-up demand. China MONITOR found that after the lockdown deprivations about half of consumers, particularly in lower tier cities, hope to reward themselves with luxury purchases. When asked by China Barometer what activities they were most looking forward to, almost half the people responded local travel. Meeting friends was the second priority.
The pandemic also opened new opportunities and challenges for brands. Among consumers polled by China Barometer, 68 percent said they had discovered new online stores that they would continue to shop, and 65 percent said they had discovered new brands that they would continue to buy.
China Barometer also found that over half of Chinese consumers plan to maintain most of their pandemic habits because they are “starting to like them.” Topping the list of behaviors most likely to be maintained are healthier eating, 67 percent; better overall hygiene, 58 percent; and
Consumers also shifted their shopping habits to emerging channels, according to China MONITOR. These channels include O2O and community commerce, in which a group of people buy in bulk to earn a volume discount. With physical stores reopened, visits to traditional retail are expected to rebound.
Kantar Global Covid-19 Barometer
Impact of the pandemic on consumer
behavior, attitudes, expectations
BRANDS AND SHOPPING
For further information about Kantar Covid-19 Barometer
Karin van Wouwe
Global Research Director