Robert Clark
Mar 16, 2016

The Open Generation goes to the mall

Identity and ethics drive brand choices for young Asian adults, according to a major study by ZenithOptimedia, which finds that although generally frugal this generation is passionate about paying for the things that matter

The Open Generation goes to the mall
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Asia’s young adults love to shop, yet they are careful with their money—not just on how much they spend, but taking note of the ethics and background of the brands to which they hand those hard-earned dollars.

That is the headline message of a major survey of younger consumers’ attitudes from ZenithOptimedia that set out to answer the burning question: what happens when Asian millennials go to the mall?

ZenithOptimedia has tagged Asian millennials the ‘Open Generation’ because they move comfortably between old traditions, such as marriage and family obligations, and new norms driven by personal freedom and financial independence.

“The interesting thing is to look at what the Open Generation are saving for, and we see that it’s for education, for entertainment, or for travel. These are things that can enrich their lives.”
—Howard Wincott, ZenithOptimedia

Following surveys of young consumers worldwide and in Asia, ZenithOptimedia has built a ‘happiness framework’ that suggests that, for millennials, happiness is a balance between freedom and control. This reinforces other findings by the media agency, which pointed to a link between happiness and control of their career and finances. Likewise, the happier millennials are those more likely to find shopping an enjoyable experience. 

The findings are based on a major survey of younger consumers across the region. The study links to a global work and draws on 6,021 interviews with young adults aged 18-34 from 11 countries, including Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea.

Asian millennials are highly positive about shopping as an experience, with 76 per cent considering it a relaxing and enjoyable activity, above the international norm of 71 per cent. The survey findings also show just how markedly different Asia’s Open Generation’s priorities can be from their counterparts in the rest of the world. The biggest variances simultaneously confirm and confound long-standing assumptions about Asian priorities: personal study sits nine points above the global figure, at 24 per cent, but spending time with family or partners is less important to younger Asians by the same margin, 61 per cent compared to 70 per cent across the rest of the globe. However, just one point divides Asian responses from the rest of the world on leisure and entertainment (49 per cent over 48 per cent); cooking and eating (35 per cent over 34 per cent); and work and education (28 per cent over 27 per cent).

These regional figures also conceal remarkable variation between individual countries and markets. While shopping is highly favoured in Korea and Taiwan—hitting 128 and 123 points on a regional enjoyment index—it is a turnoff in Australia, Malaysia (both at 88) and the Philippines (61). 

Even less expected was the conclusion that for Asia’s Open Generation it is important to feel they are doing good when they are shopping—a finding which affirms opportunities exist for a number of sectors, such as leisure and retail brands. Nearly three-quarters said they like to buy brands connected to causes that are important to them—that’s especially true for China (91 per cent) and Taiwan (87 per cent). Just under 70 per cent take steps to learn where brands are sourced before buying them. They also like to support the local team—68 per cent shop in local stores rather than large chains, with the number increasing to 81 per cent in Vietnam and Taiwan. Two-thirds choose stores that support local charities.

Asian millennials also show a higher propensity to choose well-known brands when making their purchases—78 per cent compared to 73 per cent globally. For Chinese consumers, that rises to 90 per cent.

ZenithOptimedia has found that Open Generation consumers are comparatively frugal, with nearly three-in-four saying they are able to save. But they are not afraid to splash out on quality: 74 per cent say they always go for quality over price while 83 per cent say they choose quality rather than follow fashion, both four points above the levels in the global survey.

Howard Wincott, research director at ZenithOptimedia, says the survey points to an increasing focus on “experiential” spending over pure materialistic consumerism. “We know these consumers are able to save a certain amount,” he says. “The interesting thing is to look at what the Open Generation are saving for, and we see that it’s for education, for entertainment, or for travel. These are things that can enrich their lives.”
 
Iris Bian, research manager at China Youthology, says the findings concur with a general trend among younger Asian consumers—particularly Chinese—to see consumer spending as a way of expressing their individuality. “They care if this product is meaningful to them,” she says. “There has to be some content, a meaning behind the product. They want to know if this product is going to help construct their identity, help them express their identity.” 

For brands looking to engage this generation, that spells out a significant change. As experience-driven consumerism fuels the celebration of diversity, young consumers now often have multiple passion points in a wide variety of interests. The days of blanket-marketing an entire demographic with a single message are gone, as today's younger adults expect to be engaged as individuals. To stand out from the crowd, brands will need to dig deeper and find a genuine narrative resonates with that sense of aspiration. 

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