Adrian Peter Tse
Jun 24, 2015

The shopping behaviours of middle-class women in Southeast Asia

ASIA-PACIFIC - In a study of seven ASEAN countries, the Global Habit report by Hakuhado reveals five distinct shopping styles among middle-class women in the region and offers insights on the best ways to market to each.

The shopping behaviours of middle-class women in Southeast Asia

Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Manila, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City and Yangon were among the ASEAN countries included in the survey. The study was conducted over five years between 2010 and 2014 with a sample size of 10,943 people.

According to the report, the aim was to identify lifestyles driving changes in consumption for this demographic group beyond income and life-stage factors and data alone.

As such the survey focused on consumer perceptions, purchasing behaviour and the brand involvement of middle-class women between the ages of 15 to 54.

The data was analysed and five distinct behavioural archetypes emerged: the ‘brand-conscious cosmopolitans’, ‘smart careful shoppers’, ‘family and community first’, ‘sensitive selfies’, and ‘fickle trendies’. The chart below details the five types within the context of psychological dynamics:



The five types (taken verbatim from the report):

Brand-Conscious Cosmopolitans

These shoppers possess an abundance of product information and are extremely brand-conscious. They are active consumers in virtually every shopping category, including apparel, food and home furnishings. They spend freely on dining out, fashion for dressing up, beauty, hobbies, leisure, education and health care, but are also active savers and investors. They are strongly conscious of price points appropriate for their social status but also inclined to buy products that address environmental or other social issues. Strongly motivated to address social problems, they want to be of service to their friends and the poor. As active, information-sensitive consumers, they represent a mature consumption style. These are active, forward-looking women, carefree and with money to spend.

  • A majority are white-collar workers, highly educated and employed full time. Their income is slightly higher than that of other groups.
  • Average age 34.5 with 30.7 per cent unmarried.

Smart Careful Shoppers

These women carefully plan purchases and compare prices before they buy. Sometimes they make exceptions but overall they tend to be highly price conscious. They think of themselves as good shoppers. They possess a wealth of product information, are interested in new products, and tend to trust advertising. While not to the same extent as the ‘brand-conscious cosmopolitans’, they are conscious of prices suitable for their status and are also highly concerned with environmental and other social issues. They value health, stability, and family and want to be of service to society. They are strongly conscious of food safety and other issues. Their sensibilities are practical and realistic.

  • Average age 35.2 with 25.9 per cent unmarried.

Family and Community First

These women are similar to the ‘smart careful shoppers’. They avoid impulsive, emotional purchases and prefer to be thrifty, careful shoppers. Where they differ is in lack of brand information and low involvement with brands. They are not particularly interested in shopping or product-selection per se. Shopping, like other housework, is just part of their daily routine. Strongly family-oriented, they attach more weight to family and neighbours than to their personal desires. Their perceptions of consumption, money, and brand selection indicate that these are women who consider family and those around them more important than themselves.

  • Income is a little lower than other groups; more are married and full-time housewives.
  • Average age 35.9 with 23.3 per cent unmarried.

Fickle Trendies

Neither purchases nor brand selection involve much careful planning. These women show a strong tendency to impulse purchase without prior thought. Thanks to economic development, their incomes have grown. They live in a world filled with attractive products, and their interest shifts quickly from one to another. They show a strong desire to keep up with others and like to try new products and services, but brand involvement is low. Since they spend little time or effort collecting information, their consumption patterns tend to be influenced more by those around them than by what they think themselves.

  • Average age 33.1 with 32.9 per cent unmarried.

Sensitive Selfies

In contrast to the women in ‘fickle trendies’, the women in ‘sensitive selfies’ are highly brand-conscious. But like the women in ‘fickle trendies’, these women are interested in new products and inclined to impulse purchases. Afraid of falling behind and not keeping up with trends, they frequently visit shops to gather information. They also show a strong tendency to buy what they like even if the price is high and spend freely on fashion, hobbies, and socializing. These are youthful, active women. They are trendy and fashion-conscious. But they want to be different, and their interest shifts rapidly when too many others own the same things.

  • Average age 33.1 with 34.1 per cent unmarried

Markets to keep an eye on

Big in Bangkok: Fickle Trendies (33.5 per cent)

Thai women are becoming more highly educated, and more work outside the home. The birth-rate has declined to a level similar to Singapore. Women increasingly see themselves as independent individuals. Slowing economic growth may, however, drive a shift from competition and striving to get ahead to a greater emphasis on stability and keeping up with others.

Big in Jakarta: Family and Community First (40.3 per cent)

Abundant natural resources and a large population have made economic growth in Indonesia a focus of attention worldwide. Indonesia is, however, still a newly developing country with a high fertility rate. There is a strong trend to prioritize family over individual desires.

Big in Ho Chi Minh City: Sensitive Selfies (41.0 per cent)

During the long Vietnam War and the postwar socialist government, women entered public life. Then, following the 1986 start of the Doi Moi Policy of economic liberalisation, modernization and rapid economic growth combined to make women more independent. Tendencies toward impulse shopping based on individual wants and an eagerness to differentiate oneself and to stand out from others increased to a greater extent than in other ASEAN markets.

Tips for activating consumption in each key group:

‘Brand-conscious cosmopolitans’ are an active consumer cluster found in all ASEAN cities, other regions and developed countries. Products, services, information and promotions that target a global market are likely to have currency with these women, too. With higher incomes and a higher propensity to consume than members of other clusters, they are primed to become enthusiastic consumers of environmentally-friendly and socially-conscious products and services, in addition to being active consumers of a variety of goods and services.

‘Smart careful shoppers’ take their time when shopping to make sure they get the best deals. Since they are sensitive to information and pragmatic, value-for-money products that increase their quality of life are likely to spur these women to loosen their purse strings.

‘Family and community first' have a strong trend toward spurring consumption with appeals to their ties to family and community, rather than to the women themselves. Companies that offer them good family-and community-oriented products and services should be able to tap a stable market.

‘Fickle trendies’ are less brand-conscious than ‘sensitive selfies’ but like them are prone to making impulse purchases. As their disposable income increases, they are likely to consume more. Creating reasonably-priced lines backed by easy to understand promotions is likely to be an effective way to reach them.

‘Sensitive Selfies’ are young, active and in search of ways to express themselves. Many may be hoping to achieve stable white-collar employment and higher incomes that will support a ‘brand-conscious cosmopolitans’ lifestyle. Since they are brand-conscious and prone to impulse buying, advertising and promotions that position products as different and better than those popular with other consumers will likely resonate with them. 

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