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Baby and Child Products in China: Clothing and Accessories Purchase Patterns and Preferences

Mainland parents of the 1980s/90s generation are more willing than those from earlier years to spend large amounts of money on their children. In addition to quality, safety, brand reputation, style and design, they also pay attention to the functions of clothing. According to a survey commissioned by HKTDC [1], 47% of respondents care most about whether the material is “soft and comfortable” and 45% are mainly concerned about the clothes being “non-allergic to skin”. 25% of them are primarily swayed by “brand image/word-of-mouth”, while very few say durability (8%) and price (7%) are their main purchase considerations.

The survey indicates that mainland parents prefer to buy baby and child clothing from physical channels, primarily department stores (51%) and hypermarkets (47%). Some of them also have developed the habit of buying these goods online. Overall, 89% of respondents say they would consider buying new brands of baby and child clothing and accessories, suggesting that mainland parents are receptive to new brands.

Spending on Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories

The survey finds that respondents who have bought baby and child clothing and accessories in the past 12 months spend RMB524 a month on average on these items, accounting for 2.0% of their average monthly household income. Among the cities in the survey, Shanghai has the highest spending on baby and child clothing and accessories, with parents there spending RMB600 a month on average. However, the highest expenditure as a proportion of monthly household income was exhibited by respondents from Chengdu (2.7%).

Table:Average Monthly Spending on Baby & Child Clothing and Accessories as Share of Household Income
Table:Average Monthly Spending on Baby & Child Clothing and Accessories as Share of Household Income

The average level of spending  on clothing and accessories for children in the 1-3 age group was RMB570 a month, which is higher than the average spend on such items for children aged one or under below (RMB494) and aged 4-6 (RMB509). There is a direct relationship between household income and spending on clothing and accessories for children. The higher the household income, the more is spent on these items. Respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB30,000 spend RMB603 a month on average on children’s clothing, while respondents with a monthly household income of less than RMB15,000 only spend RMB405 a month on average on these items.

Parents with two children or more (“two-child parents”) spend RMB559 a month on clothing and accessories for their youngest child, considerably more than the RMB516 that parents with one child (one-child parents) spend on these items. This indicates that “two-child parents” are spending more on clothing and accessories for their youngest child than “one-child parents” are.

Table:Average Monthly Spending on Baby & Child Clothing and Accessories as Share of Household Income
Table:Average Monthly Spending on Baby & Child Clothing and Accessories as Share of Household Income

Types of Products Bought

The types of clothing and accessories bought most often by the respondents in the survey were casual wear, shoes, and accessories like socks, scarves and gloves. 96% had bought casual wear for their children, 93% had bought shoes, and 83% accessories. 43% said they had bought formal attire for their children.

The child’s age also affects the types of clothing and accessories parents buy. More parents with children in the 4-6 age group (61%) bought formal wear for their children, a significantly higher percentage than that among families with children aged one or under (21%). Children have more opportunities to attend formal functions like banquets, birthday parties and school interviews as they grow up, making it necessary to buy formal wear for them. Mainland parents’ demand for children’s clothing is also becoming more diversified. They dress their offspring differently for different occasions – for example, casual wear in their daily life, formal wear for school interviews and sportswear for outdoor activities.

Table: Main Types of Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories Bought
Table: Main Types of Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories Bought

How Much to Pay?

Consumers in different cities and from different income groups have varying attitudes to price. In order to find out the price ranges mainland parents had in mind for baby and child clothing and accessories, the survey asked: “What is the highest price you are willing to pay for a short-sleeve child tee?” The average overall was RMB179. Respondents from Wuhan were willing to pay RMB197 on average, the highest figure for any city in the survey; while the lowest figure was for parents from Changsha, who were only willing to pay RMB161 on average.

Table: Highest Price Respondents are Willing to Pay for a Short-sleeve Child Tee, by City
Table: Highest Price Respondents are Willing to Pay for a Short-sleeve Child Tee, by City

On average, the highest price “two-child parents” were willing to pay was RMB200, significantly higher than the RMB174 that “one-child parents” were willing to pay. The potential spending power of “two-child parents” is by no means weaker than that of “one-child parents”.

The higher the household income, the higher the price respondents were willing to pay for a short-sleeve child tee. On average, respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB30,000 were willing to pay (RMB199), significantly higher than the price respondents with a monthly household income of RMB15,000 or less were ready to pay (RMB160).

Table: Highest Price Respondents are Willing to Pay for a Short-sleeve Child Tee
Table: Highest Price Respondents are Willing to Pay for a Short-sleeve Child Tee

Main Considerations in Buying

Overall, respondents had three main considerations when buying baby and child clothing and accessories – “soft and comfortable material” (which 47% named as one of their top three considerations), “non-allergic to skin” (45%) and “brand image/word-of-mouth” (25%). “Soft and comfortable material” and “non-allergic to skin” were also the top considerations in a similar survey in 2013 [2].

Respondents from Wuhan care more about baby and child clothing being made from “soft and comfortable material” (54%) while those from Shanghai are more concerned about it being “non-allergic to skin” (56%), and  Beijing parents  give more weight to “brand image/word-of-mouth” (34%). There is not much difference in the percentages for other considerations.

It is worth pointing out that parents are less sensitive about the “durability” and “price” of baby and child clothing and accessories than they are about other considerations. The survey found that only 8% and 7% of the respondents respectively cited “durability” and “price” in their top three considerations. This is probably because “price” becomes the least important factor for parents as their income increases.

Table: Considerations of Respondents in Buying Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories, by City
Table: Considerations of Respondents in Buying Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories, by City

When buying baby and child clothing and accessories, 50% of respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB30,000 pay attention to their purchases being made from “soft and comfortable material”, a significantly higher number than the group with a monthly household income of less than RMB15,000 (43%). However, respondents from different monthly household income groups do not show much difference in their considerations for other factors, such as “non-allergic to skin”, “brand image/word-of-mouth” and “style and design”.

More “one-child parents” (22%) than “two-child parents” (16%) are sensitive to “style and design”. However, “two-child” parents are slightly more “price” sensitive (10%) than “one-child parents” (6%).

Table: Considerations in Buying Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories, by Respondent Group
Table: Considerations in Buying Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories, by Respondent Group

Department Stores are Main Channels for Buying

The places that the respondents went to buy baby and child clothing and accessories most often in the past year were department stores (51% of respondents had shopped there). This was closely followed by hypermarkets (47%) and chain-operated maternity and baby stores (45%). The percentage of respondents from Changsha buying these items at department stores (58%) and the percentage of respondents from Qingdao buying from hypermarkets (also 58%) were both significantly higher than the overall figures for these particular purchasing channels.

Although mainland parents prefer buying clothing and accessories for babies and children from physical channels, they also have developed the habit of shopping online. Their online shopping channels include: domestic maternity and baby/online shopping websites or apps (23% of respondents had used these), domestic cross-border e-commerce websites (8%), WeChat stores (7%), haitao/shopping agent websites (6%) and overseas websites (5%).

Respondents from Shanghai are much more likely to have bought baby and child clothing and accessories online than those in the other surveyed cities. Over 32% of respondents from Shanghai have used domestic maternity and baby/online shopping websites or apps to buy clothing and accessories for children in the past year, a percentage significantly higher than the overall figure (23%). Furthermore, far more respondents from Shanghai have bought from overseas websites (14%) than is the case among the survey overall (5%).

Table: Channels for Buying Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories, by City
Table: Channels for Buying Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories, by City

The higher the household income of the respondents, the greater is the likelihood that they shop for baby and child clothing and accessories at department stores. Among respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB30,000, 55% said they would buy clothing and accessories for children at department stores, a significantly higher percentage than that of the group with a monthly household income of less than RMB15,000. The percentage of “two-child parents” (18%) asking friends to buy these items overseas is higher than that of “one-child parents” (8%).

Table: Channels for Buying Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories, by Respondent Group
Table: Channels for Buying Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories, by Respondent Group

Information Channels: Offline Display, Online Sharing

As well as physical stores being the main channel for mainland parents to buy baby and child clothing and accessories, they are also the main channel for them to obtain information about these products. 62% of respondents told the survey that this was the case.  The percentage of respondents from Shanghai accessing information this way (71%) is significantly higher than that among respondents from the other surveyed cities. Online information channels are also popular with 46% of respondents using online maternity and baby forums and 41% using WeChat public accounts/subscription accounts. 60% of respondents from Shanghai obtain information through online maternity and baby forums (60%) – again, a significantly higher figure than that found in the other surveyed cities.

Online-offline integration has become a trend among retailers on the mainland. A children’s clothing company in Beijing says it tries to interact with consumers by organising lucky draws on weibo and relying on recommendations by KOLs (key opinion leaders), knowing that parents like to share product information with relatives and friends on social media. Also, physical stores can help build brand image while uniformity of store display can reinforce the image of a brand in consumers’ minds. Online stores focus on product sales and mainly target third- and fourth-tier cities. Online and offline channels of information are both indispensable.

Table: Channels for Accessing Information on Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories, by City
Table: Channels for Accessing Information on Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories, by City

“Two-child parents” are more likely to obtain information on clothing and accessories for children through WeChat public accounts/subscription accounts (47% of such respondents doing this) than are “one-child parents” (39%). There is not much difference between other groups in their channels for obtaining product information.

Table: Channels for Accessing Information on Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories, by Respondent
Table: Channels for Accessing Information on Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories, by Respondent

Readiness to Try New Brands

The general view expressed by the participants of focus group discussions on baby and child clothing and accessories was that imported brands are expensive but the material used is soft, which makes them particularly suitable for newborns. They also said they found domestic brands good value for money because domestic manufacturers have made improvements in design and functions in recent years.  Moreover, foreign brands may not have sizes that suit the Chinese market because they are made for foreign children. Some respondents said the sleeves of foreign brands are often too long for Chinese children and need alterations. They are thus more inclined to buy domestic brands.

Some respondents said that online shopping platforms are flooded with counterfeits, and with used items sold as new. As a result, they opt for cross-border e-commerce (with customs supervision) or ask friends to buy overseas.

The respondents taking the questionnaire were asked: “If a totally new brand of baby and child clothing and accessories is launched on the mainland market, will you consider trying it?” Overall, 89% said they would consider it, indicating that mainland parents are in general quite receptive to newly launched brands. The percentage of respondents saying they would consider trying new brands is highest in Shanghai (94%) and lowest in Qingdao (83%).

Table:Share of Respondents Ready to Try New Brands of Baby & Child Clothing and Accessories, by City
Table:Share of Respondents Ready to Try New Brands of Baby & Child Clothing and Accessories, by City

It is worth pointing out that the higher the household income, the higher the percentage of parents willing to buy a totally new brand of clothing and accessories for babies and children. Among respondents with a monthly household income of RMB15,000 or less, 85% said they would consider buying a totally new brand, while the percentage among respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB30,000 is 92%. There is not much difference between other groups in their readiness to give new brands a try.

Table: Share of Respondents Ready to Try New Brands of Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories
Table: Share of Respondents Ready to Try New Brands of Baby and Child Clothing and Accessories

Conclusion

Mainland parents are more willing to spend on clothing and accessories for their children as their living standards improve. They will buy suitable outfits for children for different functions and activities. As a result, market demand is becoming increasingly diversified and specialised. Most parents will consider buying a totally new brand of clothing and accessories for children. Hong Kong companies interested in venturing into the mainland market, therefore, may consider segmentation from the angle of diversification of products, such as organic cotton undergarments for infants and multi-function sportswear, casual wear and performance outfits specially designed for children.

Physical stores are the main channels for mainland parents to buy baby and child clothing and accessories, and also to obtain information on these products. The most popular outlets are department stores and hypermarkets. Mainland parents will also buy these items through online channels, including mainly domestic maternity and baby websites/online stores and cross-border e-commerce platforms. They will also obtain information on these items from online maternity and baby forums, WeChat and other social media. Thus, both online and offline sales and advertising channels are indispensable for Hong Kong companies venturing into the mainland market. Given the vastness of the market, Hong Kong companies may consider opening physical stores in major cities to build up their brand image and display products, with online stores playing a supplementary role. This should be able to produce win-win results, especially in efforts to expand sales in third- and fourth-tier cities.

 

Appendix

Survey Background

China began pursuing a policy of reform and opening up in 1979 and introduced the “one-child policy” to control population growth that year. It was not until 2013 that the government eased the “one-child policy” by letting married couples have two children if one of the parents is an only child. Faced with the problems of a declining working-age population and population aging, the 13th Five-Year Plan decided to implement a universal “two-child policy”, which took effect nationwide in 2016.

The mainland middle class has high spending power and parents are in general willing to spend heavily on their offspring because most families only have one child. HKTDC commissioned a survey on the Chinese market for baby and child products in 2013. In the wake of continued economic growth and the change in China’s population policy, HKTDC conducted a similar survey in 2017 to gauge the spending mentality of mainland middle-class parents on baby and child products, their major considerations, channels through which they buy these products and access relevant information, and so on, to provide reference for Hong Kong companies interested in developing the mainland market.

Besides trying to find out the general consumption pattern of middle-class parents for baby and child products, the survey also attempts to study their spending characteristics and buying habits from the policy directions for new-style consumption discussed in the 13th Five-Year Plan. These include encouraging the consumption of green, eco-friendly and premium quality products, promoting online-to-offline (O2O) operation, and developing a new format of “content + platform + terminal” media communication. This survey also looks at the differences in spending mentality and characteristics between respondents who are parents of one child and those of two or more children. In the latter case, the data collected relates to the youngest child of any surveyed family.

Methodology

HKTDC conducted an online questionnaire survey in 10 major mainland cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Wuhan, Chengdu, Nanjing, Changsha, Suzhou and Qingdao – in March 2017. A total of 3,000 middle-class parents (300 from each surveyed city) who have children under the age of six in the family were surveyed. They are the principal members of the family with responsibility for buying baby and child products and have bought at least three categories of these products in the past year. In addition to the online questionnaire survey, six focus groups were held in Shanghai and Chengdu to gain a deeper understanding of the spending mentality and purchasing behaviours of mainland parents on baby and child products through qualitative analysis.

The term “baby and child products” used in this survey refers to six categories of products, including food, clothing, toys, sanitary care products, daily-use articles and furniture, used by babies and children under the age of six.

 

Table: Design of Focus Groups
Table: Design of Focus Groups
Table: Design of Online Questionnaire
Table: Design of Online Questionnaire
Table: Average Monthly Household Income of Respondents (RMB)
Table: Average Monthly Household Income of Respondents (RMB)
Table: Occupation of Respondents (%)
Table: Occupation of Respondents (%)
Table: Gender of Respondents (%)
Table: Gender of Respondents (%)

 


[1]  See Appendix for details of the survey.
[2]  China's Baby Boom Dividends released in 2013 covers eight cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Wuhan, Chengdu, Nanjing and Changsha.

Content provided by Picture: Alice Tsang
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