"Demography shapes reality”.
Having moved back to Bangkok six months ago, I have been talking to hosts of people about the market, the people and the world of consumption. The general discussion is around the "not so good" economy, "business is ok but growth is slow", "glad to see you back Dave, but why are you here at this poor time?" You get the drift.
But among all that mild disappointment, what stands out about the people you might want to market to?
Thailand is ageing
Fast! While all the talk about ageing populations might be about Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan being among the world's oldest populations, or China’s coming tsunami of older people, few realise Thailand has been among the fastest-ageing countries in the world in the last decade. This year its population will start to shrink (probably) in part due to young women not having or putting off having what is increasingly a single child. But also as a result of an older generation living longer and wealthier. Life expectancy has increased by nearly one year every year for 25 years.
Which means lots of very active 50- to 70-year-olds. The last six months has seen a lot of discussion in the media, in government and in market research about the growth of the older middle class in particular. The number of over-50s is growing while the number of under-20s is not. That growth is down to the better lifestyles, wealth and medicine availability among many other factors.
And it’s an active older Thailand. Late last year, Intage shared research that showed that the over-50s were just about as likely to spend, shop, trial and use technology as those between 35 and 50. Not really surprising. If you have spent the last three decades working through the growth of the broad middle class here, you are just used to change, trial, new ideas and products. Intage points out the over-50s are socially connected online and off (and yes, heavy users of Line in particular). Want proof? Watch lunch time in the big glamour malls or the food floors in MBK or the myriad smaller eateries: Lots of people 50 or older with their faces in screens.
Single women staying that way
The inevitable discussion in so much of Asia is a real concern in Thailand. In less than 20 years, the number of children a Thai woman is likely to have has moved from over four to around two—less than is needed to replace the population. Whether that is a good or bad thing is another debate. The inevitable result of the wealth growth of those two decades has meant more young women are themselves single children or have fewer siblings, better education, better jobs, less financial pressure to marry from parents and more inclination to enjoy life. And shop. One big retailer told me that it sees the single-women market being as big as the “active family” (families with kids) market. And certainly this is not limited to the boom in Korean cosmetics.
The man movement
Or as one government adviser quipped, "the stalled man movement". One reason that official offered to me for all those women staying single is the dearth of men interested in, well, women. Sure, Thailand has always seemed more open to diverse sexualities, but a lot of commentators are now discussing that maybe up to a quarter of men under 40 are not inclined to male/female traditional roles. Or as one jewellery store owner put it, “Too many men not interested in ever having a wife, too many women giving up finding a man, so now I focus on tourists”.
The other 15 percent
Which is a good thing to focus on, especially the 10 million Chinese tourists estimated to arrive this year. Yes that represents another 15 percent of the population. And they come to spend. Each Chinese tourist comes for an average of seven to 10 days and spends 4000 to 5000 baht a day (do the math). And they shop. Yes on luxury items, but the big growth is on everything from food to cosmetics, from the inevitable baby goods to cooking oils. As times toughen with local shoppers, retailers and brands are devising smart strategies aimed at these tourists. Heavy online and influencer campaigns in China itself are encouraging would-be tourists to buy the right brands when they get to Bangkok. In addition the Central Bangkok initiative being led by the Central retail group is clustering shopping around the area where Chinese tourists prefer to stay in mid-priced hotels surrounded by retail options.
Dave McCaughan is thought leader and storyteller, Bibliosexual