Retail in Asia


Meet the five consumer personalities redefining Asian retail in 2021

consumer study

Think you know what Asian consumers want in a product, and how they like to shop?

Have a look at some of the preferences that Asian consumers expect from brands.

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Bluebell Group, Asia’s leading brand distributor and operator, has released its new market report, dubbed ‘Asia Lifestyle Consumer Profile’.

The report comes on the back of a survey undertaken by Bluebell in July 2021. And it reveals today’s consumption drivers and trends across six Asian markets: Mainland China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia (Singapore and Malaysia).

To compile its findings, Bluebell surveyed some 2,100 participants across the six Asian markets. Each respondent registered a EUR 1,200 (US$1,400) minimum spend on lifestyle products in the previous 12 months, with an average age of 35 years old.

The survey revealed five dominant consumer traits and consumption behaviours across the region, covering interest and intent for brand experiences, purchasing drivers, lifestyle behaviours and product categories.

“As lifestyle brands enter a new phase of planning post-Covid, there is a fundamental need to understand the differences and commonalities across Asia’s consumers’ outlooks,” explained Bluebell Group President and CEO, Ashley Micklewright.

“This is not just about the impacts of the pandemic on Asian consumer trends, it is about a region in evolution with regards to consumers’ state of mind, purchasing intent and evolving preferences. In essence, this is a playbook for brands whether they have retail operations across Asia, or in specific Asian markets,” continued Micklewright.

From the Culturalist to the Neophilist, read on to discover the five major consumer personalities defining Asian retail in 2021.

The Experientialist

The Experientialist seeks brands that offer experiences through events, technology, entertainment and gaming. From physical to digital, they want to experience it all, and across all channels. Some 80 percent of Asian consumers said they would choose to buy from premium or lifestyle brands that offer experiences (events, technology, entertainment and gaming) with China ranking the highest in this category at 94 percent, followed by Taiwan (90 percent) and Hong Kong (83 percent). In stark contrast, only 47 percent of Japanese consumers said experiential retail was important to their shopping needs.

Specifically, mirrors with augmented-reality, self-checkouts and online catalogues were important to most Asian consumers surveyed, with China most positive about these technologies (92 percent), followed by Taiwan (86 percent) and Hong Kong (83 percent). Again, Japanese consumers were less interested, with only 55 percent saying they appreciate in-store digital technologies.

However, Experientialists are not without the need for human connection. Some 77 percent of those surveyed said that in-store human experience was important, with service people offering “added value” by understanding individual shopper needs, recommending products and explaining product features. Some 86 percent of Chinese shoppers said they preferred to have a human in-store experience, while the other five markets rated above 70 percent for needing human contact, with South Korean shoppers valuing it the least at 70 percent flat.

Looking ahead, brands need to prioritise a highly experiential omnichannel approach to retail in order to cater to the Experientialist consumer, which the study showed accounts for most Asian consumers in 2021. The “metaverse” and NFTs are another segment primed for brand growth in the coming months.

The Culturalist

Culturalists can best be defined as those consumers in tune with their own roots. They value brands which

show local relevance and authenticity in their branding and product offering.

Chinese consumers are the strongest market for Culturalists, with 95 percent saying they are more interested in brands that are immersed in the culture of their country, followed by Taiwan (84 percent) and Hong Kong (80 percent). At the lower end of this trend, just 62 percent of Japanese consumers said they value brands who speak the same cultural language. In terms of product categories, beauty brands are received far better by Asian shoppers when developed for local consumers. 89 percent of Chinese consumers are most likely to purchase local-centric beauty items, while Japanese consumers are least concerned about local culture in beauty, at 47 percent. The other four markets (Singapore and Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong) have higher cultural expectations than Japan when purchasing beauty items, with 71-77 percent of consumers surveyed are interested in local-focused brands.

Looking ahead, brands need to home in on product localisation and community-building to engage Asian consumers like the Culturalist, all the while maintaining local relevance to each respective market.

The Traditionalist

Traditionalist consumers remain true to their traditional view that luxury is a status symbol — both to the world and to themselves. For the Traditionalist, reputable luxury houses, not niche brands, are the ultimate luxury, and luxury is a sure-fire way to reward oneself.

Most Asian consumers surveyed said that the reputation of a premium brand is key in making a purchase in 2021. China is the dominant market, with 95 percent saying brand reputation is important, followed by Taiwan at 91 percent and Hong Kong at 88 percent. Southeast Asia consumers are the least concerned about reputation, with 71 percent of respondents admitting it was important in purchasing decisions. Nearly all the Chinese consumers surveyed (94 percent) said they would purchase luxury as a reward, with 86 percent of Hong Kong and South Korea consumers also buying for self-gratification.

As for the appeal of niche brands in luxury, opinions across Asia are mixed. 69 percent of Hong Kong shoppers said luxury is now more about niche brands, with just 55 percent of Chinese shoppers, and 42 percent of Japanese shoppers, relaying the same sentiment for niche brands. Fragrance, however, is a category that defies the typical Traditionalist view of luxury across Asia. Between 69 percent and 75 percent of Asian consumers, excluding Japan, said they are now more interested in exploring niche fragrance brands.

Looking ahead, brands need to engage the traditionalist by emphasising intangible assets like brand reputation, deepening heritage marketing and by capturing spend on investment, gifting and reward purchases.

The Comfort-me-ist

The Comfort-me-ist consumer values health, the home and nature and is focused on self-improvement and self-enjoyment. While natural products are part of the mix, sustainability is not yet a top priority that affects purchase behaviour.

A key attribute of the Comfort-me-ist is post-Covid pampering. Over one-third of Asian consumers surveyed said they want to treat themselves and spend more on luxury brands. 85 percent of Chinese consumers plan to spoil themselves with a luxury purchase, compared to just 51 percent of Japanese consumers, who remain conservative with splurging post-Covid. Most Asian consumers said they are enjoying time spent at home, seen in a positive shift toward home-spa essentials and gourmet food items.

However, the main purchase virtue of the Comfort-me-ist is physical health. Asian consumers are universally in pursuit of a healthy and active lifestyle, with 87 percent of those surveyed agreeing that post-Covid they wish to spend more on products that support a healthy lifestyle.

Asian consumers also want all things ‘natural’, from ingredients to fabric. 95 percent of Chinese consumers desire natural choice brands, followed by those from Taiwan (89 percent) and Hong Kong (85 percent). However, prioritising natural choices does not translate to needing sustainable choices for Asian consumers. In fact, over 70 percent of Asian consumers in each respective market, excluding Japan, said that ‘sustainability’ is not in their top-3 decision making criteria when purchasing premium brands.

Looking ahead, the Comfort-me-ist shows that brands need to have a lifestyle and health contingent in their offering, with a focus on comfort products. Look at aspects of ‘comfort’ or ‘natural’ within your brand to appeal to these consumers. 

SEE ALSO : Which Asian cities are returning to physical retail in 2021?

The Neophilist

Neophilists thrive on novelty and are curious to explore new things and ideas. This includes mix-and-matching premium and mass market items and buying virtual and second-hand products.

Most Asian consumers are fluent in mix-and-matching designers with mass brands. Taiwanese shoppers are leading the trend with 87 percent of respondents for mix-and-matching, followed by Hong Kong (87 percent) and South Korea (82 percent).

Asian consumers also have a strong interest in virtual products, driven by Chinese (85 percent), Hong Kong (73 percent) and Taiwanese (77 percent) consumers. However, second-hand premium fashion and accessories are not high priority for these three markets and are instead, favoured more by South Korean (70 percent) and Southeast Asian (68 percent) consumers.

Looking ahead, brands can attract the Neophilist consumer by exploring circular fashion initiatives and creating NFTs, and by fostering a novel shopping environment via experiential retail.

This study was powered by Inspiring-i.

Retail in Asia is part of the Bluebell Group.