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Baby and Child Products in China: Sanitary Care Purchase Patterns and Preferences

Small children often have weak immune systems, so parents are particularly concerned with their personal and environmental hygiene to prevent infections. Rising hygiene awareness has spurred demand for related products. According to a survey commissioned by HKTDC [1], respondents spent an average of RMB256 a month on sanitary care products for babies and children in the past year. 63% of respondents identified “no hazardous chemicals” and “non-allergic to skin” as their top considerations. Other popular considerations included “natural organic product” (57%) and “brand image/word-of-mouth” (47%).

The survey found that hypermarkets (54%) and chain-operated maternity and baby stores (46%) are the primary channels for mainland parents to buy baby and child sanitary care products. Some parents also have the habit of shopping these items online. The main online channels include domestic maternity and baby/online shopping websites/apps (23%), cross-border e-commerce websites (8%), and WeChat stores (6%). Overall, 86% of the respondents said they would consider buying a totally new brand of sanitary care products, suggesting that mainland parents are receptive to new sanitary care brands.

Spending on Sanitary Care Products

The survey found that respondents who had bought sanitary care products for their children in the past year spent RMB256 a month on average on these items, accounting for 1.0% of their monthly household income. Respondents from Beijing spent an average of RMB297 a month on these items, the highest among all the surveyed cities. Respondents from Guangzhou spent RMB226 a month on these items, the lowest among the surveyed cities. The proportion of monthly household income they spent (0.7%) was also the lowest.

 

Table:Average Monthly Spending on Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products as Share of Household Income
Table:Average Monthly Spending on Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products as Share of Household Income

Household income directly affects how much a family spends on baby and child sanitary care products. The higher the income, the greater the amount parents are willing to spend on these products. Respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB30,000 spent RMB272 a month on average on these items, while those with a monthly household income of under RMB15,000 spent just RMB222 a month on average.

 

Table:Average Monthly Spending on Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products as Share of Household Income
Table:Average Monthly Spending on Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products as Share of Household Income

Types of Products Bought

Irrespective of age groups, the types of sanitary care products bought most frequently are bath gel (95%), body lotion (94%) and shampoo (93%). Their purchase frequency is high because they are heavy-use daily consumables. Some focus group participants said that some sanitary care products that they buy for their children have formulas specially intended for infants, such as moisturising bath gel, soothing body lotion and shampoo that do not irritate the eyes.

 

Table: Major Types of Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products Bought
Table: Major Types of Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products Bought

How Much to Pay?

Even for the same products, consumers in different cities and from different income groups have varying perceptions about price. In order to further gauge the price perception, the survey asked: “What is the highest price you are ready to pay for a bottle of body lotion?” Among all respondents the average answer was RMB195. Respondents from Suzhou, however, were ready to pay RMB231, the highest average answer given; while those from Changsha were only ready to pay RMB173, the lowest figure.

 

Table: Highest Price Respondents are Willing to Pay for a Bottle of Body Lotion, by City
Table: Highest Price Respondents are Willing to Pay for a Bottle of Body Lotion, by City

The higher the respondent’s income, the more they are ready to pay for a bottle of body lotion. The highest price that respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB30,000 are ready to pay (RMB212) is significantly higher than that of respondents with an income of RMB15,000-30,000 (RMB187).

The highest price that parents with two or more children in the family (“two-child parents”) are ready to pay to buy this item for their youngest child is RMB221, considerably higher than the RMB189 that parents with one child (“one-child parents”) are ready to pay. This shows that two-child parents are spending more on sanitary care products than one-child parents.

 

Table: Highest Price Respondents are Willing to Pay for a Bottle of Body Lotion, by Respondent Group
Table: Highest Price Respondents are Willing to Pay for a Bottle of Body Lotion, by Respondent Group

Main Buying Considerations

“No hazardous chemicals” and “non-allergic to skin” are parents’ top considerations when buying sanitary care products for children, both scoring 63%. Other considerations include “natural organic product” (57%), “brand image” (47%) and “certification guarantee” (46%). Respondents also identified “non-allergic to skin” as the top consideration in a similar 2013 survey. [2]

Respondents from Beijing and Shanghai care more about “brand image/word-of-mouth” than respondents from other cities. Respondents from Shanghai also put greater weight on “quality” (50%).

 

Table: Considerations of Respondents in Buying Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by City
Table: Considerations of Respondents in Buying Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by City

There is not much difference between respondent groups, divided by child’s age, number of children and monthly household income, in their considerations when buying sanitary care products for children.

 

Table: Considerations of Respondents in Buying Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by Respondent
Table: Considerations of Respondents in Buying Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by Respondent

Hypermarkets are Main Buying Channels

Hypermarkets were the most popular places for buying baby and child sanitary care products in the past year (54%). Other main channels include chain-operated maternity and baby stores (46%) and department stores (45%).

Respondents from Shanghai are markedly more likely than those in other surveyed cities to buy these items online. 36% of Shanghai respondents said they had used domestic maternity and baby/online shopping websites or apps to buy these items in the past year, considerably higher than the overall figure of 23%. The percentage of Shanghai respondents asking friends to buy products overseas (16%) or buying directly from overseas websites (11%) is also markedly higher than the overall figure.

 

Table: Channels for Buying Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by City
Table: Channels for Buying Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by City

In the survey, more parents with younger children (under three years of age) buy sanitary care products from maternity and baby stores. This is probably because they can also buy other products for infants in these places. The proportion of “two-child parents” asking friends to buy products overseas (18%) is also markedly higher than “one-child parents” (9%).

The higher the respondents’ income, the more likely they are to buy from department stores. Among respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB30,000, 49% say they would buy sanitary care products from department stores, a percentage markedly higher than the 39% of respondents with a monthly household income of under RMB15,000.

 

Table: Channels for Buying Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by Respondent Group
Table: Channels for Buying Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by Respondent Group

Online/Offline Sales Networks

With the exception of Shanghai, bricks-and-mortar outlets (shopping centres/department stores/specialty stores) are the main channels for mainland parents to buy sanitary care products for babies and children, and to access information on these products in all cities in the survey, with 58% of respondents having done so. Online maternity and baby forums were the most important channel for respondents from Shanghai to access information, at 69%, compared to only 61% for physical outlets. It is worth noting that respondents from Shanghai also depend more on relatives and friends for information than in other surveyed cities (38%).

A mainland maternity and baby products chain with over 3,000 franchise stores is implementing a strategy of integrated online/offline marketing. It makes use of mobile apps and electronic retail channels like WeChat stores to satisfy the mainland parents’ demand for mobile shopping. It has also created different topical sections under its WeChat account, with online Q&A for parents to access child-rearing information and expert opinions, as well as shopping at WeChat stores. It also pushes information on events organised by its retail outlets through WeChat so as to direct online customers to its bricks-and-mortar outlets.

 

Table: Channels for Accessing Information on Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by City
Table: Channels for Accessing Information on Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by City

Parents with children under one year of age in the family (42%) depend more on recommendations from relatives and friends for information than parents of other age groups. It is believed that first-time parents usually depend more on relatives and friends for information sharing, as well as recommendations from experts.

A slightly higher proportion of “two-child parents” (44%) access information on baby and child sanitary care products through WeChat than “one-child parents” (39%), despite having experience in raising children. They also depend more on recommendations from experts for information (42%) than “one-child parents” (36%).

Higher-income parents are more likely to depend on “TV/radio commercials” for information on sanitary care products for babies and children. Only 30% of the respondents with a monthly household income of under RMB15,000 say they depend on “TV/radio commercials” for information on sanitary care products, but 41% of the respondents with a household income of over RMB30,000 depend on this channel for information. The percentage of respondents with a household income of RMB15,000-30,000 obtaining information on sanitary care products through “recommendations from salespersons” (35%) is higher than that for the group with a monthly household income of under RMB15,000 (29%).

 

Table: Channels for Accessing Information on Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by Respondent
Table: Channels for Accessing Information on Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by Respondent

Readiness to Try New Brands

Focus group participants reported that there are all kinds of different brand organic products in overseas markets and they all have international certification guarantee, but these may not be available on the mainland. Although sanitary care products are heavy-use daily consumables, parents are still keen to buy products for their children of good quality, safe and containing no hazardous chemicals. They are quite receptive to new brands. Citing paper diapers as an example, one respondent said: “Some paper diapers easily cause diaper rashes. Some have leaking problems. We need to make more comparisons to find a suitable brand.” Some parents prefer to buy overseas brands or renowned domestic brands because they think that these have better quality assurance and higher hygiene standards.

Questionnaire respondents were asked: “If a totally new brand of baby and child sanitary care products was launched on the mainland, would you consider trying it?” Overall, 86% of the respondents say they would consider it, indicating that mainland parents are in general quite receptive to newly launched brands. Among the different cities in the survey, the percentage of respondents saying they might consider trying new brands is highest in Wuhan (90%) and lowest in Qingdao (78%).

 

Table:Share of Respondents Ready to Try New Brands of Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by City
Table:Share of Respondents Ready to Try New Brands of Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products, by City

There is not much difference between respondent groups (divided by child’s age, number of children and monthly household income) in their readiness to give new brands a try. According to a mainland chain-operated maternity and baby store, parents have greater brand loyalty and will not easily switch brands when their children are small. It is when children grow up, develop stronger resistance and are more adaptable to the surroundings that parents are more likely to be swayed by promotional activities to switch to other brands.

 

Table: Share of Respondents Ready to Try New Brands of Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products
Table: Share of Respondents Ready to Try New Brands of Baby and Child Sanitary Care Products

Conclusion

Sanitary care products are bought more frequently than other baby and child products because they are heavy-use daily consumables. “No hazardous chemicals” and “non-allergic to skin” are mainland parents’ top considerations in buying these items. “Price” is the least important consideration. Hong Kong companies keen on developing the mainland sanitary care products market may consider building up their brand image by introducing “organic”, “natural ingredient” and “no additive” products. In the survey, 86% of the respondents say they would consider buying a totally new brand of sanitary care products for their children. Hong Kong companies may try to attract parents to give their new brand a try through sales promotions and offers of free samples.

Hypermarkets and chain-operated maternity and baby stores are the primary channels for mainland parents to buy sanitary care products for babies and children. However, as mobile shopping grows in popularity on the mainland, Hong Kong companies should not overlook channels such as mobile apps and WeChat stores and should take a more holistic sales approach with online/offline interaction. In online publicity and promotion, they may offer child-raising tips to parents and answer their queries through WeChat or maternity and baby forums in order to engage parents and win their trust. Once trust is established, parents will be more receptive to the product information pushed to them and share the information with relatives and friends. Compared with traditional advertisements, inter-personal communication is a more effective means of improving word-of-mouth and increasing consumer confidence in a brand.

 

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 seminars 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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