Consumer preferences in Asia are changing more rapidly than those in other areas of the world. With an expanding middle-class and rapid advances in technology, consumers in Asia are seeking out ways to enhance their lives. One key way they are doing this is by improving their shopping experiences.
Here are some of the Asian consumer trends that rocked 2018, which will most likely continue to affect Asian consumer buying decisions.
1. Share-Worthy Moments
As social media and technology continue to evolve, consumer behavior adapts right along with it. Social media penetration has risen significantly in the past few years with no end to growth in sight. Asian consumers want to- and like to - share what they’re doing in real-time. Because of this, brands, end-clients such as FMCGs, and retailers should focus on creating content that can either be used for social media or put on social media for sharing.
For many, this means an increased focus on mobile. Why? Because many consumers, especially in Asia, are focused on watching and sharing moments via social media via their phone.
For example, the word インスタ映え (Insta-bae), meaning Insta-worthy/Instagrammable was voted one of the words of the year for 2017. In 2018, many companies in Japan focused their marketing efforts on the keyword 'Insta-bae' hoping to catch the attention of this growing trend.
Along with the word 'Insta-bae', the Japanese media also covered similar words specifically pertaining to Instagram 'Videogenic', 'Movie-genic', and 'Photogenic', which are all meant for moments 'worthy of sharing'. A good example of this is New York's Dominique Ansel Bakery which has been making big waves in Tokyo. Having made the morning news several times for their 'movie-genic' treats, the bakery is said to have lines with wait times of 30 minutes to four hours.
2. Playful/Relatable Packaging
Many times, the reason consumers want to share something with their friends is if something 'looks good'. As we have observed in 2018, consumers have become more aesthetically sensitive to package designs, picking more relatable or cute ones over normal packaging.
We can see this with the success of the global company Coca Cola in Asia. From printed names on the packaging to cute bow-tie finishes, the American beverage giant has made its packaging more fun and cute for different campaigns to boost sales.
In the case of China, similar to their name bottle campaign, the company designed the Coca Cola label with symbols and graphics that younger consumers use like '521' and other codes for more relatable packaging.
3. Little Indulgences to De-stress
The shift to focus on stress reduction and self-care has been growing in the past few years and we expect it to be a stronger trend. For many young consumers in Asia, especially in China, Japan, and Korea, high pressures in work and study have many consumers looking towards ways to de-stress. The main ways consumers in Asia look for ways to de-stress is through mobile games, a growing market all over Asia and 'small indulgences' for happiness.
In Korea, there is a growing focus towards 'small but certain happiness' and by extension a coined term, 탕진잼 (Tangjin-jam), meaning 'Wasting money is fun!'. Younger consumers in Korea are more willing to spend a little if it makes them happy. As we can see, there is a growth in interest in the term:
For example, a growing number of consumers are more willing to spend money on mobile games and other 'small expenditures' if it is 'certain to make them happy'. Because of this, the Korean mobile games market is expected to grow to US$2,117m by 2020.
In China, the largest mobile game market in Asia, where 67% of 20-24-year olds say they play online games to relieve stress.
For brands and end-clients, this means that younger consumers are more active in searching for things that make them happy and more willing to spend small amounts if they feel it will make them happy.
4. Mobile First
Asia currently has the highest mobile penetration rate in the world. Considering this, it makes sense for many brands in Asia to focus their efforts on mobile.
In countries like China and South Korea, many young consumers view brands with a mobile option as forward-thinking and are more inclined to choose them over brands that do not explore mobile options. And this is not just for responsive layout or web pages.
In recent years, especially in South Korea, many shows and programs made for TV are slowly moving to online platforms like YouTube and other video hosting sites, knowing that their target audience is moving away from the TV.
Aside from online media opportunities, many e-commerce brands are also focusing their efforts on mobile. For example, popular online shopping site Lazada launched an app to reach more customers faster. Lazada has also become the number one shopping site across several countries in Southeast Asia.
In Japan, flea market mobile application Mercari has seen great success - with other flea market applications trying to catch-up each day. The application started on mobile but has since expanded to the desktop as well. Because of Mercari's success, many companies of all types are following suit in focusing their efforts on mobile first.
5. Being Here, Being Me
Especially in 2018, consumers all around Asia were looking for outlets to be themselves and discover their passions and what makes them happy. Due to this, many people look to 'live in the moment', 'experience life' and 'seek ways to make themselves happy'.
This could be due to the rise of social media in Asia, especially in Japan, Korea, and numerous APAC countries where YouTube is available. Many consumers are looking into alternative or creative jobs like being a 'YouTuber' that allows them to be themselves and have life their way.
In Japan, with popular social media apps like Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, many consumers are taking to social media to express themselves and show off their individual personalities.
In China, 73% of Chinese consumers aged 19-25 are more interested in experiences and happiness than making money. The same could be said about South Korean consumers who are more willing to spend money on experiences and being happy than spending on material objects.
6. DIY - Rising C2C Market in Asia
As the mobile and application markets grow in Asia, many consumers have a growing interest to do things themselves. Especially with the rise of handmade goods and flea market applications in Japan, we see many consumers want more control in their buying and selling.
As we explore the APAC region, we can also see this in countries like Taiwan where the C2C market is seeing steady growth.
For many who participate in these markets, the reasons they list is because there is a sort of 'human touch' that comes with C2C marketing. Many also say they can trust another person more in this more intimate selling space.
7. AI x Apps
With a growing idea of self-care in Asia, many are turning to apps to assist them for enhancing their quality of life. Because of this, consumers are embracing technology related to AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning to learn more about and better themselves.
We can see this in popular health app in Japan like Sleep Meister and China startup Snail Sleep. Both apps focus on analyzing sleep data of the user to give insights on how the user can improve their own sleep habits for a better quality of life.
In 2018 we expect to see a rise in health apps like these as consumers have a growing interest in improving themselves through the use of technology.
8. E-wallets and Bitcoin
This year has given way to many discussions on electronic money and non-physical forms of payment. Especially in Japan and South Korea, the keyword Bitcoin has become a huge topic in the past year. Many companies in South Korea were said to have given out Bitcoins as part of their company bonuses but have since stopped due to the volatility.
In Japan, a country known for its cash culture is also slowly starting to embrace Bitcoins with the increase of apps that allow users to handle their own Bitcoin accounts.
Though Bitcoin has been a popular topic for 2017 for East Asian countries, in the APAC region there is an increasing focus on e-wallets. E-wallet sites like AsiaPay especially have experienced growth in the APAC region due to the increased use of e-commerce.