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Asian consumers adopt niche goods

News, 30 March 2016

SINGAPORE: Customisation and a desire to stand out from the crowd have long been traits of consumer behaviour in the West, but there is evidence that consumers in Southeast Asia are increasingly adopting the same outlook.

According to Acacia Leroy, an Asia-Pacific strategist at consumer insights firm TrendWatching, more and more consumers in the region are moving away from mass consumption to mass customisation.

"This megatrend arises from people's basic needs of self-expression and social recognition for their individual tastes, personality and identity through consumption," she said in comments reported by Southeast Asia Globe.

TrendWatching has dubbed the trend "Youniverse", an expression employed to encapsulate how Asian consumers are becoming less concerned about conformity as the influences of Western culture, globalisation and the internet take hold.

"More and more people value individuality and self-expression, and it is now [everything], from school education and self-development classes to advertising campaigns, that tells people to 'be yourself'," Leroy said.

"Of course, when people do not have any money to even eat, they would not really care about customising their consumption," she added.

"But niche consumption doesn't have to be expensive. Securing the best deals on one-of-a-kind pieces at vintage shops is a status symbol for consumers nowadays, and the main promoter of this consumer trend is not just economic."

Certainly the power of advertising has played a role, as seen by a campaign for Carlsberg Malaysia last year when the Danish brewer tailored its ads to consumers' age and music tastes.

Another element of the campaign allowed Facebook users to insert their own name instead of the 'Carl' of Carlsberg – a move that echoed Coca-Cola's successful "Share a Coke" campaign that won a Gold award in the Warc Prize for Social Strategy 2015.

"Now brands are recognising that consumers love the bespoke, and they are tailoring each consumer experience to suit the individual tastes and preferences," Leroy said.

However, Thomaï Serdari, an adjunct professor of marketing at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business in New York, said it is too early to suggest niche consumerism will have mass appeal in Southeast Asia.

She argued that consumer behaviour and the desire for niche products are determined by three factors – their level of education, experience of the luxury market and overall sophistication. And this will take time, she said.

Data sourced from Southeast Asia Globe; additional content by Warc staff