Robert Sawatzky
Dec 12, 2017

Spring festival an emotional rollercoaster for Chinese consumers: Alimama

New research shows role of mixed feelings in rising middle-class consumption patterns.

Silver Sun, general manager of planning, Alimama at Campaign's DMA forum in Shanghai
Silver Sun, general manager of planning, Alimama at Campaign's DMA forum in Shanghai

Feelings of joy and celebration around family reunions in hometowns are popular motifs around Chinese New Year campaigns, but actual consumption patterns are driven by many more complex emotions and behaviours. 

At Campaign’s DMA China forum in Shanghai, Silver Sun, general manager of planning at Alimama, debuted new research on the behaviour patterns and feelings of urban middle class consumers during Spring Festival holidays. 

The study found that CNY celebrations were a time of anxiety for many as young professionals return home to be quizzed by friends and family about their professions, salaries and relationship status. Search terms like “forced marriage”, “rent a girlfriend” and “anxiety” all spike during this period.

Based on the searches of 70 million core urban middle-class consumers as well as more than a thousand questionnaires and qualitative interviews, the survey found some of these anxieties are also channeled into escapist shopping behaviour. Not only is more spent on home movies, entertainment and online games but online browsing as an activity also rises, Sun said.

As the family holidays wear on, the survey found consumer thoughts turned to returning to jobs in the cities with fresh anxieties about deadlines and unfinished projects. Search terms like “not going back to work” begin to surface.

Coupled with a new year’s resolutions for self-improvement, Alimama noticed in the data increased consumer interest in new training courses and self-improvement at this time.  Less surprising, perhaps were the searches around new diets and weight loss programs.

New tastes at Chinese New Year

One of the new trends uncovered by the research is the changes in food consumption over the Spring Festival. Whereas holidays used to be dominated by rich foods, sweets and sodas, healthier foods are now being introduced into holiday menus. Pure water is the fastest growing beverage product during the holidays, followed by pure juices, Sun said.

Traditional liquors, baking and confections, while still popular, are also starting to be replaced by new urban tastes for wine and chocolate, which are selling increasingly well during the Spring Festival.

One also detects a clear pattern of upselling during the holidays, the research says, as those mixed emotions during the holidays drive consumers to improve their sense of self-esteem and self-worth. There are clear opportunities here for luxury brands, Sun pointed out as the willingness to pay higher prices during Spring Festival increases.

What Alimama’s research sheds light on is the effect of middle class professionals who may work in Tier 1 cities and return home to smaller centers, bringing new tastes with them and wanting to share with their parents and extended family. This is evident not only in rising sales of more refined foods, but also in home products likes candles, dehumidifiers and clothes dryers used in larger cities that are shipped back home to smaller cities as gifts. 

Where is home?

“If you ask the Chinese people what the Spring Festival means to you, they will say ‘going home’,” Sun noted. But her research found that the concept of home is changing from a geographical concept to an emotional home. More Chinese are considering home to be not necessarily the place where they grew up but the place where family is located. As evidence, she pointed to the growing numbers of those surveyed who spent their last Chinese New Years travelling or on vacations with family. 

As the meaning of Spring Festivals evolves, it’s important for brands to keep pace, Sun told the audience. “I hope this knowledge can allow brands to launch better marketing campaigns around Spring Festival” she closed.

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