The China Consumption Trends report from media agency MEC China analysed syndicated databases on Chinese consumers and also integrated input from more than 60 trend and marketing specialists to identify what it expects to be the leading developments during 2014.
"As China is getting more and more established, brands will be forced to move from distribution strategies to consumer value strategies," stated Thomas Nolsoee, chief strategy officer at MEC China.
"In this environment there are real opportunities for existing and new companies to capitalise on the consumer trends in China," he said. "If you don't, someone else will," he added.
The idea of balance is coming to the fore as a more affluent population faces new pressures, from competition at work to food scandals and pollution. MEC noted how consumers were channeling interests in health and the environment back into their buying habits – more yoga, juice diets and gym memberships – and suggested brands should consider how they might contribute to this in both a functional and an emotional way.
Another aspect of greater wealth is greater choice and Chinese consumers are demanding more information before they part with their money. Half of consumers said that they wanted to check the contents of an item before they made their purchase decision, up 14% from 2010.
"Transparent consumption not only means consumers' have a right to know but also implies companies have the social responsibility to tell," said MEC and advised brands to behave more like a friend.
But consumers are not just examining a physical product before buying, they are assessing other factors as they want to be inspired. For example, 84% of consumers said they wanted to shop in an amiable environment, compared to 47% in 2010. For brands then, it is not just a matter of selling a product, they must also sell an experience.
And the times when consumers are shopping are also changing, as busy lives mean more and more people's retail activity is taking place outside normal business hours, whether that involves a visit to a supermarket or e-commerce.
The extent of this change was evident in a statistic relating to Singles Day on November 11: online sites Taobao and Tmall recorded RMB 6.7bn in sales between midnight and 1am. Brands could achieve incremental sales by making themselves available outside normal business hours, MEC suggested.
Other trends highlighted in the report included the rise of the geek, high-tech fanatics whom brands could harness as advocates, and a growing pride in Chinese brands.
Data sourced from MEC China ; additional content by Warc staff