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Acceleration, individualization & socialization thanks to digital

The new aspirations of China’s middle class (part 2 out of 4)


Chinese people are very much attracted by technologies and most urbans are frantic users of smartphones. China is now the number one e-commerce market in the world and, leveraging the power and simplicity of local platforms such as TaoBao, Tmall, WeChat, etc., its consumers are together with South Koreans the most advanced of all in terms of mobile purchases.

Digital allows middle class citizens to satisfy their quest for consumption experiences that are:

  • instantaneous, via the real time dimension of internet coupled with the efficiency of parcel deliveries throughout the country,
  • personalized, thanks to algorithms taking into account consumers profile and historical behavior to provide individualized offers,
  • and shared, via the social dimension of internet and the consultation of peers’ opinion not only before but also during the act of purchase.

It brings the satisfaction of “shopping smart”, a high expectation among the middle class, and spreads across even the most daily tasks as shown by the success of the YiHaoDian website and application selling fresh food delivered within three hours.

Amongst the young, the quest for emotionally rich experiences goes primarily through digital and represents a key lever for brands. In secondary cities where a lot of companies have no presence nor distribution, digital provides individuals with an access to brand consumption which they can’t find in their physical environment, and brands with an opportunity to develop without investing massively into retail. Nowadays these secondary cities are the engine of the country’s growth. So the brands that are not yet on Tmall or other digital platforms relevant to their industry are not only missing the train of digital commerce but also the development of the economy into peripheral cities and the interior of the land: they are out of the game!


Article written by Christophe Jourdain, Ifop International Director.

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From ostentation to experience

The new aspirations of China’s middle class (part 1 out of 4)


Quite like anywhere else in the world, when they join the ranks of the middle class Chinese citizens aspire to consume the brands they see on television or other media commercials and could not afford before. Then, when they go up the income ladder, they seek to express their « nouveau riche » status through the purchase of products that convey a message of financial success: clothes or accessories with visible brand logos, iconic smartphones or unanimously acknowledged alcohols, indicators of wealth such as a car or a nice watch. This is what makes the success of Western brands should they offer daily products such as Nestlé or Gillette, or luxury ones such as Louis Vuitton or Rolex.

This consumption is driven by the desire to access new forms of gratification by conforming to a norm, to what is well recognized by all. The new consumers that go along this path now mostly come from Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities which are the ones inflating the ranks of the middle class today. To a certain extent they behave like their predecessors from the last 15 years primarily living in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, but in a way comparatively more informed, faster in its progression, fed by new influences (such as the Korean culture very present in Chinese media) and new codes of success which are no longer exclusively materialistic. For example, travelling to major traditional destinations such as Paris, London, Tokyo or Singapore has become a widespread way of asserting a certain status.

On their side, members of the more « experienced » middle class, who accessed this category of population several years ago and are often more educated, more in contact with influences from outside the country via travels, friends or colleagues as well as internet, push this aspiration for experiences further. They are less inclined to show off visible signs of status and rather seek more experiential forms of accomplishment: going to the movie, visiting a theme park, tasting a good wine, going on a unique journey, accessing culture. The consumer shifts from the product to an experience, from a desire to conform to a desire of independence.    


Article written by Christophe Jourdain, Ifop International Director.

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The new aspirations of China’s middle class

As opposed to the middle class in Western countries, which tends to shrink under the effects of a slowing economy, China’s middle class is growing rapidly to the point that it will exceed 600 million individuals within ten years. Here is a huge reservoir of consumers able to spend beyond their primary needs and to access branded products which explains why China has long been and continues to be a very strategic market for international brands.

China’s middle class evolves at a scale and speed with no equivalent in the history of humanity. Currently estimated between 220 and 380 million people, it is joined by about 2 million new individuals every month, it is spreading across the interior of the country, towards Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities, among younger age groups and towards ever more connected daily habits.

Along with this transformation new aspirations arise, which companies need to fully grasp and understand if they want to be able to develop their business in the direction of Chinese consumers.

In our next 4 articles on China Inside we will share with you some of the new aspirations that shape the behavior today’s Chinese middle class.


Article written by Christophe Jourdain, Ifop International Director.


China’s outbound tourism is growing despite the economic turmoil

More than 109 million Chinese travelled abroad for leisure last year and currently 1 in 10 international outbound travelers is Chinese. This number is only expected to rise.

An Ifop report shows that 30% of the Chinese are planning to travel abroad over the next 5 years and saving for traveling is the 3rd saving concern after saving for a rainy day and kids’ education. The National Population and Family Planning Commission has recently released projections, estimating the population of China to peak at 1.39 billion by the end of 2015 and remain constant over the next 5 years. Needless to say that the potential is huge for the tourism industry to meet the needs of these 400 million Chinese travelers!

1st tier cities are the engines of this growth while 2nd and 3rd tiers are catching up.

This is a challenge for the tourism industry. Middle-class travelers are still seeking for shopping in hotspots but the affluent ones are shifting towards experiential travels, increasingly looking to venture off the beaten path and to share their moments on social media such as WeChat.

Resorts, Spas, restaurants and cruise providers would be the first ones to benefit from the change but retailers are not outdone. Shopping for fashion will always remain a must yet purchases of souvenirs and local specialties will increase as a way to extend the dream.


Article written by Thi My Nguyen, Project Manager Ifop Asia



How “Made in…” impacts the attractiveness of products amongst Chinese consumers?

Ifop recently conducted a survey among the Chinese middle-class* in five main cities (Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Shenyang) to understand perceptions towards products made in different countries around the world. This study reveals the strengths and weaknesses associated to “Made in…” China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, UK and USA.


“Made in”: a key purchase driver

The country of origin is an essential information to Chinese consumers: 44% claim to “Always or most of the time” pay attention to it when making a purchase, 30% “Sometimes”. Also 70% consider it as “Very or somewhat” important when it comes to choosing a product or a service.


France is strongly associated with Luxury and the values attached to this sector

From the eight countries evaluated, France is the most associated with one particular field: Luxury. This strength in the field of luxury contributes to associating France to dimensions of know-how, creativity and ability to make one dream which are of high value. However, the association with this sector conceals other good things France has to offer to Chinese consumers and paradoxically this country is not much associated to automotive, energy or aeronautic sectors despite major assets in these fields.

French companies and brands obviously lack visibility there and need to better “educate” local consumers to raise their profile. Automotive maker Citroën shows the way with the success of its DS model positioned as a premium product playing with the codes of luxury: brand heritage, high scale service, extreme personalization, etc.


China is developing legitimacy in technology

Germany is strongly associated in Chinese people’s mind with automotive and technology, Italy with Luxury (but to a lesser extent than France), the USA with technology, aeronautics and Internet. In the field of fast moving consumer goods cultural proximity plays a major role as Korea and Japan are the most associated with Cosmetics while China and Japan are seen as leading countries when it comes to food.

In technological fields the USA and to a lesser extent Germany are perceived to be leaders, but China stands closely behind in its citizens’ view. Obviously China is becoming more and more confident about its own capabilities in the field of technologies, most probably thanks to the success stories of Alibaba, Huawei, Xiaomi and the likes.

One should notice that none of the investigated countries is clearly associated to sustainable development nor to high quality of service, two areas highly encouraged by the Chinese authorities and offering obvious opportunities to companies in today’s China.


This is an abstract from an article written by Christophe Jourdain and published in the Connexions magazine by the French Chamber of Commerce in China.

(*) With at least 5000 RMB monthly household income

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M-commerce is booming nowhere else as much as in China!

China is the first e-commerce market in the world*. What is striking is how quickly habits shift towards mobile, to such an extent that the major part of online shopping is now done through a mobile device. This trend is a great change for brands.

Alibaba dominates the Chinese ecommerce with 80 % market share and more than 350 million active buyers a month. With two main platforms Taobao (CtoC) and Tmall (BtoC), the group realizes an annual transaction volume higher than Amazon and eBay altogether: it is a monster! Indeed, in one year, between the second quarter 2014 and the second quarter 2015, purchases on mobile increased by 125% for Alibaba and their proportion raised from 33% to 55% of all transactions: a boom!

The growth of m-commerce is explained by numerous factors, including the huge appetence of Chinese consumers for digital, the power of local e-commerce platforms and payment solutions, the weakness of physical trading outside the big cities, etc. (see also Why are Chinese consumers so Digital?). It speeds up the transition to a consumption-led economy and contributes to the growth of both rural and peri-urban areas. It is thus greatly encouraged by the government and benefits from a snowballing effect.

There is lots of indication that the growing practice of m-commerce anticipates what will happen, at a slower pace, in most of the others markets in the world. What is currently happening in China has to be followed closely. But what exactly does that change?

Initially, the shift from physical trading to “traditional” e-commerce (not mobile) extended the purchasing time to every moments when consumers are using a computer, and the shopping location to all the places when they have access to a desktop. This evolution meant also a larger amount of information, of influence sources, of comparison means, of collaborative solutions, allowing everybody to buy in a “freer and smarter” way. Nowadays, the shift towards mobile purchase as observed in China goes one step further.

With smartphones and consumers like bosom buddies and permanently connected to the internet, we really move to a 24/7 commerce. Chinese consumers go mad for social networks such as WeChat (one quarter of the population logs in more than 30 times a day) or Weibo and other e-commerce websites such as Taobao or, they are in a quasi-permanent purchasing mind, searching for bargains. Consumer can also switch and be in a selling situation, which multiplies transactions and compels brands to find a space on the mobile media if they want to exist. The permanently connected smartphones make online commerce more and more part of consumers’ daily life and expose them to more and more products categories, e.g. the growth of YiHaoDian (“Number 1 store”), an online shop specialized in fresh food products (fruits, vegetables, seafood) providing a user-friendly app offering delivery within 3 hours from purchase.

M-commerce is social by nature. Most of the Chinese consumers use their smartphone to post pictures and comment their purchase on e-commerce platforms or social networks: they are much more active than the Americans or Europeans. They also share their experiences via dedicated apps such as XiaoHongShu (“little red book”) where girls flaunt and comment their purchase, creating communities of interest in the latest trendy studded shoes or about the new smooth-eyebrow product. Their reviews influence other netizens and are considered by e-commerce platforms which emphasize on the best-rated products. The consumer is now in the center of the offer deployment process instead of the brand and the distributor.

Moreover, with his smartphone the consumer can instantly ask his network of friends for recommendation. He is never alone during the purchasing process: word-of-mouth not only plays a key role prior but also during the purchase.

M-commerce is also going further with customization. When connecting to an e-commerce website, consumers are recognized and their preferences recorded during their previous visits are taken into account. Taobao illustrates it by giving its consumers access to their “footprints”, the history of actions on the website, which allows to target them offering products and discounts matching their needs. The mobile dimension adds geolocalisation, continuity and instantaneity. Digital manages to flip over positions: the consumer, often anonymous in the real life, becomes a well-known and taken into account customer in the virtual space.

But mobile also stimulates the convergence with the physical shop: both have complementary roles in which purchase experience, service, branding and customization are increased via the complementarity of touchpoints. For instance, convergence is seen with QR Codes, much more used by Chinese consumers than Western ones, to find information, promotions, services, and reviews in the physical store… or even to the online store! This convergence is also seen in the payment process, with e-commerce payment solutions such as Alipay and WeChat Wallet which are now adopted by physical stores like Walmart or Carrefour. Easier, quicker, more secure than cash or credit card, containing full and instantaneous information about the consumer, these mobile payment solutions are growing in all sectors of physical daily life such as, in Shanghai, in millions of grocery stores, taxis or restaurants.

Eventually, let’s note that the Chinese m-commerce mostly goes through multi-brand platforms and apps. Nobody wants to go on the slow-debit internet to look for a brand own website then go to another one to compare, type-in the 16 digits of your credit card, etc. when all brands are available on the same app with one-click away payment. This creates the necessity for brands to be present on Tmall-like platforms, WeChat stores, etc. and generates new positioning challenges as, for example, it is not obvious for a lifestyle or luxury brand to sell its products in a space where it stands alongside a multitude of mass market players.

Thus, a crucial challenge for Western brands is to grasp this revolution as fast as possible in order to gain new clients, many clients!, in China now, and to be ready to gain even more clients everywhere else tomorrow.

Article written by Christophe Jourdain, initially published in French in Siècle Digital.

Tags: digital, e-commerce, m-commerce, store

(*) According to Bain and company

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The Chinese luxury market is getting more mature

The Luxury division of Ifop recently published the results of the Luxury Trend Report, a yearly look at Luxury trends as evaluated by luxury professionals (general management of luxury houses, heads of brands, marketing and commercial directors, experts from agencies specialized in luxury, etc.) from all sectors of luxury.

This year, in a context of moderate optimism for the luxury industry as a whole, China appeared once again as the most strategic market among developing countries. It remains quite strong in terms of prospects, especially as compared to other BRIC markets, notably Russia and Brazil that are losing a bit of appeal in terms of strategic priority as compared to previous years.

While a year ago, due to a slowing GDP growth and to the impact of anti-corruption measures, a majority of luxury professionals were expecting the Chinese luxury sector to continue to slow down in growth, this year their perception is much more balanced and the general opinion is that we are heading towards a stabilized growth situation.

Luxury professionals generally agree that Chinese consumers are changing rapidly and most of them underline the fact that they are becoming more demanding and more critical towards major global luxury brands. This is a sign that Western brands cannot compromise their quality of product, service and purchase experience with Chinese consumers. It also implies that these brands are expected to be at the top of services that are common in China but may not be as critical in other markets such as e-commerce, home delivery, social media connection, etc. which is rarely the case today. In this demanding market, luxury brands must therefore not only keep their core promise of quality and uniqueness but also deploy it in locally sensitive areas of the brand-consumer relationship.   

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The Korean influence on Chinese consumers: from entertainment to plastic surgery

Most consumer markets in China evolve under the mixed influences of local culture, Western lifestyle spreading globally as well as regional trends. In the latter Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong traditionally tend to be sources of inspirations for Chinese consumers but in recent years South Korea has really been the place of influence, especially among young generations.

This Korean “wind” is driven by popular culture. While everyone in the Western world probably only knows Psy and his famous Gangnam Style, Korean pop (Kpop) groups like EXO or actors Lee Min Ho or Kim Soo Hyun are superstars in China with tens of millions of followers on Weibo. And what do the people of Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu watch on their mobile phones while riding the bus to work? Korean TV series or K-drama, miniseries that run over just a few episodes and generate collective fascination.

This presence of Korean stars on Chinese screens drives aspiration for the Korean look: a perfectly oval face with large eyes for girls, a soft attitude but muscular shape for men, all in a discrete, fashionable, not too sexual style, more relatable and aspirational than many images spread by the Western culture.

Korean fashion and beauty brands benefit from this trend and have become major contenders for global and local players in China. Cosmetic brands like Etude House and Innisfree are seen as offering quality, accessible products specifically adapted to Asian skin, with a relatable communication style and the advanced digital literacy that Koreans and Chinese have in common. Building on their affinity with consumers who have the world’s most sophisticated make-up routines, Korean companies are also well positioned to develop new products that meet emerging needs. It is in Korea that were first launched the BB cream and CC cream that later spread to China and on to the whole world, a good example of how innovation no longer only flows from West to East but also more and more the opposite way.

Another big trend is cosmetic surgery. According to ChinaDaily 56000 Chinese people travelled to South Korea last year to undergo plastic surgery, more than 3 times the figure of the previous year.  Inspired by Korean entertainment industry idols, Chinese consumers cross the Yellow Sea to undergo procedures such as double-eyelid surgery to gain Caucasian-style eyes, nose jobs leading to more prominent nose bridges and facial contouring to achieve an oval shape via shopping away bones. Travel agents are now offering plastic surgery based packages to Korea. And Korean surgery expertise is also moving to China as last year 37 South Korean owned plastic surgery clinics opened in Mainland.

This impressive impact of Korea on Chinese consumer behavior is a good reminder to Western brands of a couple of constant truths about the China market: consumer aspirations are specific, more complex and diverse than they may seem, and in order to succeed in what is now a super competitive market brands need to work on being relevant locally.


Chinese vs Brazilian women: Which part of their bodies are they willing to invest more on?

Living Beauty, the latest study by the cosmetics beauty division at Ifop, focused on major mass markets China and Brazil. 600 women aged 18 to 55 were surveyed in each country to identify different women profiles in terms of their aesthetic concerns.

Although the relationship with beauty cannot be defined the same way in the two countries – it is all about pleasure and sensuality in Brazil, while China focuses on control and safety – several common features actually bring these two countries’ consumer profiles closer.

The cosmetic market in China is growing fast and offers more and more sophisticated products, analyzes Laure Friscourt, Head of Consumer & Beauty Division at Ifop. It is to be noted that anti-aging products are widely represented, with 60 per cent to 70 per cent penetration, and that the local, more and more premium Chinese brands are strongly developing. In addition, women mainly seek naturalness and guaranteed safety as a result of the high impact of pollution.

Brazilian women expect these same benefits from cosmetics, in a country which possesses the largest wealth of natural raw materials and cosmetic actives. Brazil is unique in its approach of body hygiene and beauty. It is characterized by a great ethnic diversity, and it is also the country where the hair is king. Just like in China, it is a market that counts more and more premium brands and whose consumers expect to get a lot of advice.

In Brazil, beauty lies in the way people seek both wellness and/or social integration, while it still often has to do with achieving a status of one’s own in China, while finding an ‘internal health-external beauty’ balance.

Six types of profiles identified
The study identifies six women profiles in both countries, ranging from over-committed women, who are quite numerous in Brazil and would do anything to achieve perfection, to the health-natural group, which gathers 21% of Chinese women. Then, in the middle of the mapping can be found two interesting profiles of women with a relationship with beauty that has not matured yet, in particular for 25% of the Chinese.

The belly as a source of dissatisfaction
The women were surveyed on the body parts they are the most satisfied and dissatisfied with, and those on which they are the most willing to invest. The results unveil the areas to be studied by cosmetics brands.

And it comes as no surprise that the first clear result is the importance of the hair in Brazil, and of the eyes in China. Yet, when Brazilian women are asked which body part they are willing to invest more on, 58% of them answer their bellies. Then 40% mention their hair, followed by the lower part of their bodies (bottom and legs). By contrast, Chinese women declare they are willing to invest more on the upper part of their bodies: 70% of them mention their faces, 30% their chest, neck and shoulders.

This contrasting approach can be explained by the different lifestyles and cultures, but again, it also conceals a common preoccupation. Indeed, even if they say they are not ready to invest more on this area of their bodies ‘yet’, most Chinese women also admit they are not satisfied with their bellies.

This article is based on research published by the Beauty division of Ifop and adapted from a publication by Kristel Milet in


A particular relation to health

Boosted by improved standards of living and the development of medical infrastructures, Chinese citizens’ health and life expectancy improved drastically over the last thirty years. But the relationship the population developed to health is complex and has been impacted by repeated incidents in the fields of food safety and access to health services. This article presents some of the main specifics of the Chinese relation to health as observed in recent market research studies conducted among citizens and doctors in large urban areas of the country.


A vision of health deeply rooted in local culture and tradition

How health is approached is a central element of the Chinese culture and way of life. It is greatly influenced by the Taoist philosophy which encourages respecting nature’s life cycles and a nutrition approach that balances yin and yang. But what is really different from what can be observed in most other countries, Western ones in particular, is a holistic, enlarged, inclusive vision of health.

In this vision, mental health and physical health are deeply intertwined, much more associated to one another in people’s mind than elsewhere. The body is approached « outside in » but also « inside out » with the notion that what feeds external signs is before all the inside. In this way, physical appearance, for example skin tone, is handled as much via nutrition and lifestyle (sleep, no sun exposure..) than via cosmetic products applied to the surface of the skin.

In the posture of the Chinese, the notions of prevention, anticipation and harmony are more prevalent than the notion of curing what is not going well. Rhythm of life, nutrition, traditional medicine, feng shui, etc. all contribute to this approach. The population is therefore naturally in a position of anticipated management of one’s health, more than Western people who tend to approach health via a curative angle.

The impact of China’s development model

The rapid growth and opening of China to the outside these past thirty years have had a significant impact on the way citizens approach heath. Pollution and the effects of the environment on one’s organism have become major preoccupations for the Chinese who have become the world’s most worried population about the state of the environment. 53% of them even consider that « the effects of society on environment are so great that it is not possible for people to have an impact at the individual level » (GlobeScan 2012). One simple reason to that: large Chinese cities are amongst the most polluted of the planet and their inhabitants experience the consequences in their daily life. For them, the degradation of the environment is not a theoretical concept but rather an experienced reality with very concrete consequences: micro-particles concentration in the air forcing people to wear masks, water improper for consumption, developing allergies, etc.

The relation of the general public to health is also confronted to Western influence and a lifestyle model – individualized food portions, high in meat, the development of leisure activities, motorized commute, etc. – which impacts local habits. This is considered by the population as both a danger – perturbing ancient habits that have proven benefits – and the opportunity to solve or bypass certain problems specific to the Chinese society, for example in the field of food safety.

This vision is confirmed by doctors who see in two typical signs of the developing consumption society – the rise in pollution and in stress levels – the factors which consequences on citizens’ health will most rise over the next 10 years.

Food safety is a very sensitive issue

Following a number of crisis associated to contaminated food products over the past few years, Chinese consumers show more and more distrust towards the quality of what they eat. They are particularly careful about meat, seafood, fruits and vegetable. And a survey by the Chinese Association for Sciences and Technology shows that 70% of them think genetically modified food is dangerous for heath.

In sensitive segments such as baby food and dairy products, consumer from major cities turn more and more to foreign brands whom they associate to safer production processes and ingredients. Local brands keep an edge when it comes to proximity with consumers and having products that fit local taste.

Here again, the vision of health professionals echoes that of consumers. A very large majority of doctors (77%) consider that the presence of harmful ingredients in food will represent a serious threat to the people’s health in the years to come. This level of concern makes China stand out among 9 countries spread over 3 continents in which Ifop conducted a survey on health concerns.

Tensions about the national health system

Cases of medical staff being physically attacked by patients appear regularly in the news and are being discussed abundantly on social media. As a matter of fact a certain tension has developed between patients and doctors over the past few years, primarily associated to the opacity of the health system, which reforms are badly communicated, as well as to hectic schedules in hospitals.

As a typical example a patient with skin infection recently interviewed by Ifop in Shanghai described: « I don’t think the doctor paid enough attention to my condition. I waited an hour and a half to meet him, we had a 5 minute discussion, he barely checked me out and he handed me a prescription without explaining it. »

Even if the Chinese go to a family doctor on a day-to-day basis, hospitals are the place of choice when one is really ill. Over-attendance of these combined with limited resources contribute to growing tensions.

An evolution towards digital health

In order to take control of their health and alleviate their worries consumers search for information on internet. They share their experiences on numerous discussion platforms or interact directly with local or foreign doctors on dedicated sites such as

The Chinese are very much advanced when it comes to digital habits: very active on social media they are among the world leaders when it comes to e-commerce and mobile application usage. This affinity with digital tools translates in the field of health into the development of online purchases such as on the dedicated Tmall site and growing usage of personal health applications such as Lifesense.

Major healthcare players now ought to take this aspect into consideration to optimize how they communicate with their audience and develop services that bring substantial value to consumers.

Opportunities for French players

In this Chinese health landscape, French companies, especially those in the food industry, services to patients and connected devices have great opportunities to meet the local public. They should not hesitate to display the guarantees of harmlessness and efficacy to which the Chinese are very sensitive. And as always in China, a very diverse country geographically and socio-economically, they should design a segmented approach to their market if they want to be really successful.

Article written by Christophe Jourdain and Chunxiao Huo – Originally published in French in CCIFC’s magazine Connexions