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China’s Toy Shoppers: A Purchasing Behaviour Survey (Executive summary)

Mainland parents attach great importance to their children’s education and health and are paying increasing attention to the safety and quality of toys. As their income level rises, they are more willing to pay higher prices for toys which are safe and offer quality assurance. Generally speaking, parents hope that toys can bring their children happiness and that the process of “playing” with toys can stimulate the child’s ability to think and interest in learning. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) conducted a consumer survey from January to March 2014 in order to get an understanding of mainland parents’ consumption concept, purchasing behaviour and changes in demand. Findings of this survey can serve as reference for Hong Kong companies wishing to tap the mainland market.

The survey covered eight mainland cities where a questionnaire survey of 1,600 parents with children aged 14 and below was carried out. The eight cities are Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan, Shenyang, Nanjing and Xian. Apart from the questionnaire survey, six consumer focus group discussions and 30 home visits were conducted in the three cities of Guangzhou, Shanghai and Chengdu. Findings of the survey are summarised as follows:

  • In recent years, as the issue of pressure on children has been gaining increasing public concern, the parents surveyed hope that toys can help promote the healthy mental development of their children. Among the parents surveyed, 93% point out that “I hope my child can have a pleasant and happy childhood, I will continue to buy toys to satisfy my child’s demand for toys”. To children at an older age (6-14), parents would normally give toys as a reward for the efforts they make.

  • Although parents are the decision makers where toy purchase is concerned, children starting from age 3 already know what toy they want and would ask their parents for it. As the children grow older, their influence on buying decisions would become stronger. This is particularly the case with children aged 9-14, with 60% of the parents surveyed saying that their children would request them to buy the toys they like.

  • The majority of children (73%) obtain information on toy trends from their friends. However, as the children grow older and begin to have access to information on the internet, the proportion of children aged 9-14 who obtain information on toys from the internet and from electronic games is considerably higher than that of children in other age groups.

  • Parents with children in different age groups have different consideration factors in toy purchase. Parents generally attach the most importance to safety (66%) and style/exterior design (55%). The proportion of parents who have children aged under 1.5 and attach more importance to toy safety is considerably higher (76%).

  • Boys and girls’ preference for toys varies at different ages. Generally speaking, girls in different age groups all like plush toys and dolls, while boys like remote-control/electric toys.

  • While over 80% of the parents surveyed point out that “mobile/computer games are becoming more and more popular, but I don’t think children should come into contact with such games too early”, the survey finds that half of the parents indicate that in the past year their children have played mobile/computer games.

  • The majority of parents surveyed remark that children should seek their parents’ help or consent before they can download game apps or computer game software to their mobile phone or tablet. Most of the games available for download are free. The proportion of children downloading mobile/computer games by themselves is markedly higher when they reach the age of 6.

  • Compared with findings in HKTDC’s 2010 report Survey of toy shoppers on the Mainland, the average annual frequency of making toy purchase by the surveyed parents has dropped, while the average annual total spending on toys has risen. According to this survey, the average annual frequency of toy purchase made by parents fell from 10.5 times in 2010 to 8.8 times in 2014, whereas the average annual total spending on toys climbed from Rmb799 in 2010 to Rmb1,069 in 2014.

  • Parents normally would buy toys for their children as gift on their birthday (94%) and on Children’s Day on 1 June (88%). It is worth noting that apart from traditional Chinese festivals, the proportion of parents in Guangzhou, Chengdu and Nanjing buying toys for their children as Christmas gift is higher than that in other cities.

  • All in all, the surveyed parents obtain information on toy trends mainly from the place where the toy is purchased (70%) and recommendation by salespersons (42%). Among parents with children in the 9-14 age group, 72% indicate that they mainly obtain information on toy trends from their children. The proportion of parents with children aged below 3 who obtain toy information from QQ groups, WeChat and Weibo is higher than that of other parents.

  • Large specialised toy stores/toy marts are the most popular channels for parents buying toys for their children (70%), followed by department stores (50%) and supermarkets/hypermarkets (49%). The unit price paid by parents making toy purchase at different sales channels differs, with the purchasing price at department stores being the highest (Rmb179 on average).

  • Online shopping has emerged as a new trend in the mainland. According to the 2010 Survey of toy shoppers on the Mainland report, only 14% of the surveyed parents indicated that they had bought toys online in the preceding year. However, the 2014 survey finds that this proportion has risen to 46%. In Nanjing, the largest proportion of parents polled (71%) have bought toys for their children in the past year.

  • In the past year, among parents who have bought toys online, 79% point out that the toy purchase was made on the Taobao platform. Other major platforms include Tmall (56%) and jd.com (39%). The average price of toys purchased online is Rmb112.

  • According to the parents surveyed, when searching for toys online, they would use different keywords, including product category, gender of the child, age of the child, toy functions, toy brand and price range. As children grow older and start to have brand awareness, the proportion of parents with children aged over 6 and using “brand name” as the keyword for searching is slightly higher than that of the overall respondents.

  • The survey finds that only 38% of the parents indicate that they have purchased toys as gift for other children in the past year. The proportions in different cities vary markedly. For instance, only 22% of the respondents in Shanghai have bought toys as gift, but 61% in Chengdu. However, the budget of the overall respondents for buying toys as gift has gone up from Rmb74 in 2010 to Rmb175 in 2014.

  • Mainland parents’ awareness of toy brands has increased. However, due to the great diversity of brands on the mainland toy market, the brands mentioned by the respondents are varied. This shows that there are still no leading brands dominating the mainland toy market. Meanwhile, parents’ brand awareness remains weak, with 25% of them indicating that they seldom pay attention to the brand when they buy toys and 53% saying that they would pay attention to the brand but the brand is not a factor influencing their purchase decision.

  • Although Hong Kong toy factories have relocated to the mainland many years ago, 72% of the surveyed parents still agree that “the brand concept and product quality of Hong Kong brands are better than those of mainland brands even if their toys are produced in the mainland”. The survey also finds that families with higher income tend to have more confidence in Hong Kong toys. As such, it is believed that Hong Kong toy brands should find more room for development in the medium to high end of the market. Given below are some key points which may be helpful to Hong Kong companies breaking into the mainland market:

    • As parents hope that the “playing” process can foster their children’s interest in learning, toys embracing both the play and learn elements, e.g. science experiment toy kits and building blocks, are most favoured by parents;

    • As the toy market is developing towards specialisation, Hong Kong companies can devote their resources to developing toy products for a certain age group or under a certain category in order to build a “specialist image”;

    • As mobile/tablet/online games are gradually leading the trend, in addition to developing game apps or computer software, Hong Kong companies should also pay attention to physical toy products deriving therefrom;

    • The spending of parents on toys purchased at different sales channels varies, so Hong Kong companies should develop the right sales channels and set the right product pricing in line with their brand strategy and positioning;

    • Be it toys purchased for own use or as gift, specialised toy stores/toy marts and department stores are parents’ most popular channels for buying toys;

    • As online shopping has become one of the important channels for mainland parents to buy toys, Hong Kong companies should take note of the keywords used by parents in searching for toys online and build brands so that parents can successfully “find” their products;

    • As parents’ spending power rises and are paying more attention to toy quality, they are willing to pay a higher price for products of well-known brands or better quality; so Hong Kong companies should emphasise their image of “quality assurance” and “creative design”;

    • Although parents have greater brand awareness, currently brand is still not a major factor influencing toy purchase decisions; so Hong Kong companies should grasp this opportunity to raise the profile of their brands in the mainland.

Please click here to purchase the full research report.

Content provided by Picture: Alice Tsang
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