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The Evolution of Leisure In China


Today Chinese society is in a flux. Both the economic growth as well as the pace of growth of the past 35 odd years has had a massive impact on not just on the economic wellbeing of the Chinese people but also on the society in general. With the increasing affluence levels, higher disposable incomes, access to new product categories and increasing integration into the wider world, has meant not only have the people’s lives changed but also the way they relax, unwind and spend their leisure time.

Unlike in the past where the favorite pastime of most Chinese people was confined to what was acceptable within the social realm, now the same has evolved with the changes in the society. What is acceptable and not acceptable is now more a domain of the individual with the focus firmly on more balanced, engaging and diversified lifestyle.

Consequently we observe evolution of leisure options beyond traditional restaurants, stroll and activities in the neighborhood parks and KTVs to leisure travel, health & beauty, shopping and even online indulgences. This evolution signifies a move away from more basic motivations of safety, nutrition (health) and tradition to more mature-exploration, experience, authenticity, and value proposition.

The Chinese government too has had a hand in this evolution. The government has pushed to increase domestic consumption by providing more days off for Chinese people to spend on leisure activities. In 1995, the government introduced 5-working-day week, providing people with 2 days a week of leisure and rest. In 1997, the golden week and the national day were introduced as additional measures to boost domestic spends. Finally, the new labor law in 2008 was enacted to provide yearly 5 days of paid leave to make Chinese people to connect more with their families and in the process boost the economy.

Explore and Experience

Traditionally for Chinese people, food (a major leisure indulgence) used to be more about nutrition and health. With increasing affluence and consequently travel becoming more common, food is becoming more about experience, authenticity and exploration. Cheese and regional wine are riding high on this wave. 94% of Chinese consumers say they have tried French cheese and were likely to eat some again. Definitely, times are evolving.

While travel on the other hand was previously considered as a leisure activity with a focus on destinations (been there, seen that), it has now shifted more to qualitative and “out-of-time” experience where people want to live the present moment, enjoy  the experience, explore and exchange.

A study conducted by IFOP has shown that Chinese people save for difficult times, for their children’s education and… for travel. In first tier-cities (Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou) travel even emerges as the primary motivation for saving.

Travelling agencies noticed this shift and have tried to seize this new market by offering for instance journeys focused on particular themes such as gastronomy, relaxation (cruise), or sport (hiking) and in the process work on people’s motivation of experience and explore.

Other emerging trends

The younger travelers focus more on independence when it comes to travel and we also see solo or non-tour group travelers on the increase. They are no longer interested just in running from one scenic/tourist spot to other and endure endless bus rides in the process. They now want to experience and live the moment.

Travel aside, we observe rise of health and beauty based leisure avenues. There is a common Chinese belief that to be successful in life, one needs to look good (and of course healthy). This belief is leading to increasing focus on keeping fit and also quick fixing perceived bodily negatives. This aspect is also seen part of leisure and Chinese people are going all for benefiting from options that cater to these needs. While the elderly have the gym and dance in public parks, most young people are hooked to the gym.

People are also opting to go abroad to seek medical attention. It may be for more serious medical conditions or for cosmetic surgeries. This trend has given rise to new travel trends such as medical tourism (e.g. plastic surgery). Countries like Korea, Thailand are hot destinations for Chinese people to travel to get medical attention and also in the process enjoy visiting the country.

Kings of Shopping

Shopping is considered an integral part of leisure activities of Chinese people. To them it’s more than buying. It’s an experience and a social activity. Rise of malls is an example of this trend that caters to these requirements. Chinese people spend a lot of time living the experience of shopping. For instance, when they want to buy a premium beauty product, it all starts with talking to each other (social occasion). It’s followed by an online search for information (personal engagement and involvement) and actual buying of the product in physical stores in China or abroad (experience). It’s not surprising that online channels are now trying to replicate the physical store experience on the website to engage more consumers.

At the same time, shopping malls are becoming a lifestyle and provide a wide range of services to enhance the shopping experience: game rooms, restaurants, beauty salons, and cinemas are much more numerous than in our malls.

Even when it comes to travel, shopping in the world’s biggest cities remain the top motivation irrespective of age or gender. The voracious appetite for shopping can be seen in duty free stores in the world’s major airports as well as high streets.


Talking about online, the digital revolution especially the rise of social media and e-commerce has had deep impact on the way Chinese people conduct their lives and also their leisure habits. Nowadays, it’s very common for Chinese people to explore leisure ideas, discuss travel plans, look out for promotions for hotels, book tours, all using just their smart phones. Smart phones have made information accessible in a magical way and the Chinese people are using it like no other people elsewhere. As a consequence, possibilities are endless and spend time on wechat or weibo is now considered as leisure.

In conclusion, undertaking leisure activities is becoming more and more commonplace among Chinese people. We can fairly say that Chinese people have truly come off age when it comes to their leisure activities and are now looking to further their experience by spending on numerous avenues that offer them such indulgences.    

Article written by Manohar Balivada, Vice President, Ifop, Shanghai. Published in Connexions magazine N.77  


Have Chinese Women Started to Look Beyond Beauty Products?



In China, the importance of beauty can’t be overemphasized especially for women. The concept of beauty which is traditionally dictated by fair and pale skin (boiled egg complexion and tone) is now morphing into emphasis also on sharper and fuller facial and bodily features. The belief that skin care products can only do so much to make one look beautiful is taking roots with women looking for quick fixes such as micro or cosmetic surgeries to achieve perfection in their quest to look beautiful.

According to current market estimates, until 2013 only approximately 5 million Chinese women did one or the other form of cosmetic surgery.  By 2015 this figure rose to over 7 million and by 2018, it’s likely to touch 11 million. Although the figures are minuscule compared to the size of the population, but the growth is estimated to be stronger going forward despite government regulations and societal constraints.

To contextualize, it’s estimated that between 80 to 90% of Chinese women use skincare products and up to 40% use color cosmetics. Assuming the latter group is more into beauty, and as a consequence more likely to undertake cosmetic surgery, the full potential of this market becomes more obvious. A study by Chinese lifestyle magazine SELF and IFOP Asia estimates that approximately 15% of Chinese women are considering doing micro/cosmetic surgery in the future. Considering this figure of 15% who intend to undertake a surgery in the future, the size of the category skyrockets to nearly 40 million potential consumers in the next 5 to 10 years. (15% intenders among 40% color cosmetic users of the total Chinese women population).

In fact, in comparison to their counter parts in more mature neighboring markets, Chinese women undertake such surgeries on a greater scale than even their Japanese counterparts across all treatments/procedures. However the Chinese women get trumped by Korean women although in terms of interest and intent to undertake these treatments/procedures in the future, they in turn trump the latter.

This category predominantly attracts younger females although in recent years Chinese men too have started going under the knife. This is only likely to add to the huge potential of this category. The acceptance of more comprehensive and multiple surgeries are also on the increase. As of now, the popular surgeries are double eye lid  as well as nose job. In the next few years with wider acceptance of the practice, surgeries on other parts of the body too could be commonplace.

The macro reasons for this staggering growth among others, are the increased competition in the job market, the changing societal values, increasing disposable incomes, integration into the wider world and ever more emphasis on personal looks.

According to the SELF & IFOP Asia study, compared to last few years, micro/cosmetic surgeries have become more popular, acceptable and even admired. The study states that micro reasons are multi fold but mostly to do with the continuous propagation of the message in public media, increasing acceptance in the society, open mindedness to having a surgery & the ever increasing desire to look more beautiful and having more youthful skin, both of which are never fully satisfied in spite of increasing spends on beauty care products.

Women of different ages consider these surgeries for different reasons. Fresh graduates, who account for lion’s share of the surgeries undertaken in China, do it predominantly for enhancing their career prospects by building their self esteem (through appearance). A study done by JAMA facial plastic surgery also alludes to this and also suggests that such women also observe an increased level of self efficacy (confidence in ones abilities) compared to before.

The middle aged consumers (25-30 yrs) do it mostly for anti-aging and whitening purposes whilst those who are little older do it for not only anti-aging but also to remove wrinkles, freckles, pigments and bags under their eyes .

Another trend that is also catching up is undergoing cosmetic surgeries abroad. Chinese consumers are also seeking these types of surgeries more and more abroad for both costs as well as safety considerations. According to the Korean Healthcare development institute, in 2012 Chinese consumers accounted for 20% of foreign patients who went to Korea for any medical service and 36% of them sought cosmetic surgery with an average spending of US$1,600. This proportion is only likely to increase given the trends we observe in this market.

With the increasing acceptance and popularity of cosmetic surgery, this industry is only likely to explode in the coming few years with implications for both cosmetic surgeons as well as beauty brands. The need for ‘quick fix beauty’ is increasingly becoming commonplace and more importantly being accepted especially by the younger generations. Beauty brands would do well to think and act on this likely surge of the need for quick fixes. Depending on how they react, this trend would either be a boon or a bane for them.


Article written by Manohar Balivada, Vice President, Ifop, Shanghai  

1 -EXO

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.