China Insights

Chinese consumers among smartest in the world

Grace Liu

Former CEO TNS China & TNS Sinotrust

Shoppers 01.12.2015 / 09:40

Pre-purchase shopping habits in China

From cars to credit cards, toothpaste to tablets, flights to fruit, almost nine in 10 Chinese shoppers now research products before buying them.

TNS' research released today highlights the lengths consumers are going to find the brand, bargain or product they want, and the challenge that poses to retailers.  According to TNS' Connected Life study, Chinese consumers are some of the smartest shoppers globally, with nearly nine in 10 (88%) carrying out some form of research before making a purchase, compared to 84% worldwide.

Chinese shoppers are equally likely to do pre-purchase research pure offline (72%) than pure online (70%), holding stores and screens in equal regard when trying to find the brand, bargain or product they want, unlike many other countries where either offline or online research dominate.  The data shows little difference in the amount of pre-purchase research by age group in China: 16-24 year olds consult approximately 3.7 pieces of information pre-purchase, compared to 3.5 sources for those aged 55-65. 

Connected Life is TNS' study of over 60,000 connected consumers across 50 countries. The fieldwork was undertaken in all markets between May and August 2015. The Chinese sample size was 2,085.

It's not just big ticket items like cars, flights, technology, holidays and financial services products consumers seek information on - it's also cheaper everyday essentials such as shower gel, cosmetics, diapers and pet food.  The majority of Chinese shoppers now adopt the considered, pre-planned approach previously reserved for high-ticket items, to buying lower-priced, regular shopping basket staples. Over eight in 10 (84%) shoppers say they do pre-purchase research for personal care products such as skincare, perfume and cosmetics, 87% for baby care products and 82% for hygiene items such as deodorant and shower gel.   

Key Numbers

  • 88% Chinese shoppers do pre-purchase research
  • 84% Global average
  • 3.7 pieces of information 16-24 year olds consult
  • 3.5 pieces of information 55-65 year olds consult

Thanks to the explosion of connected devices in China over the past few years, it's never been easier to research products wherever you are. This trend is posing challenges to retailers. Chinese consumers are natural bargain-hunters who will go through multiple different research channels to ensure they have found the best deal or the brand most suited to their tastes. Interestingly, offline methods such as an in-store or word of mouth are still just as powerful in influencing purchase decisions, so brands need to ensure they have a watertight Omni channel strategy and don't just focus on how to engage consumers online.

Brand equity counts. Over half of Chinese consumers make their purchase decisions before they shop

Whether researching offline or online, the study reveals that 51% of shoppers globally make up their mind about the exact brand to buy before they shop.  In China, a similar proportion (52%) of "Decided" shoppers kept to their plan and purchased that exact brand. Only 14% were "disrupted" while shopping, ultimately buying a different brand. This means we may see a decline in impulse shopping in-store. Consumers now know what they want, and are less susceptible to in-store deals.

Building brand equity is key, and the best way to win with these shoppers is help them find what they are looking for quickly: a good experience with the brand online or offline will lead to repeats in the future. The majority of shoppers start their mission with a good idea of the brand they intend to purchase. Brand and sales  teams need to work together to win: brand teams increase the share of shoppers decided on the brand, and sales teams closes the deal at the point of sale.

There is still opportunity to influence shoppers to change their mind: over a third (35%) of Chinese consumers are open to brand choice when they start shopping. Relevant offers and incentives delivered at the right time - whether online or in-store - are crucial in winning over undecided shoppers as well as stimulating impulse buying.

Understanding shopper mindsets is key to encouraging disruption

While many Chinese shoppers reach stores with a pre-researched decision to buy a particular brand, TNS' Connected Life research shows there is still appetite for new products.  So-called 'Exploratory' buyers want to explore products available that meet their needs.  This mindset presents a real opportunity for brands, particularly in FMCG and other low involvement product categories, which are increasingly commoditised.  Shoppers with this type of mindset are easiest to influence, most likely to research online and are the highest spenders, and are prevalent in certain categories such as personal care (28%).

As consumers worldwide adopt a more considered approach to their purchases, brand owners and retailers can provide the information - and incentives - they need to make up their minds.  This means they must stop thinking in terms of advertisements and start becoming content providers that offer relevant information and offers at every stage of the shopper journey.  To be successful, brands, retailers and manufacturers need a deep understanding of how and where people research purchases to ensure the right kind of information is in the right place at the right time.

Source: Kantar TNS

Editor's notes

* About Connected Life

Connected Life is a leading global study of the digital attitudes and behaviours of 60,500 internet users across 50 countries, exploring how technology is transforming the lives of consumers across the world. It offers essential insight into the impact of the growing digital ecosystem on the media landscape.

Connected Life also uncovers new and exciting opportunities for marketers to connect with their consumers in this increasingly complex environment; it is a powerful tool that helps brands make better digital decisions.

The fieldwork was undertaken in all markets between May and August 2015. The Chinese sample size was 2,085.

For further information, visit

* To reach the author, or to know more information, data and analysis of shopper research in China, please contact us.

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