China's shoppers are much like those in the rest of the world. Or rather they are becoming so. That is the conclusion of this article by Shaun Rein, founder and MD of China Market Research Group and regular EngagingChina reader.
China's consumer society is split between older Chinese who felt the effects of the Cultural Revolution, and younger consumers who are much more like their counterparts in the west. For example, Chinese youngsters are much more “brand savvy” and active in researching products than older generations.
The internet plays a vital role in this research process and Chinese youth are the most prolific internet users in the world averaging 17.9 hours a week surfing the web — a fact that may surprise many.
This growing awareness of the outside world has made younger Chinese consumers more selective than their old folk, and much more aware of brands, particularly western ones.
They are also less tolerant of poorly trained salespeople with little knowledge of the products they sell and little apparent interest in helping customers — sounds familiar. As more Chinese travel and shop abroad in HK or in the west, they expect a level of service that China-based retailers often struggle to provide. Rein says:
We have found that Chinese consumers want to deal with sales people who can talk about various brands and their strengths and weaknesses rather than sales people who are touting a specific brand because they receive commissions on sales of that brand.”
He quotes the example of US electronic retailer Best Buy, which has been a leader at training good salespeople, according to interviews and surveys that CMR Group conducted at Best Buy's flagship store in Shanghai.
He says consumers also like to to be able to touch products and compare different brands directly rather than being limited to looking at products from behind a counter — the traditional Chinese approach to retailing.
Stores that offer the “hands on” experience, like France's Carrefour, have been able to rapidly win over Chinese consumers, and they offer a higher level of basic service than can be typically had from home-grown retailers like Shanghai Hua Lian.