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Baby and Child Products in China: Toy Purchase Patterns and Preferences

Mainland parents have a reputation for doing whatever they can to give their children an early advantage in life, by trying to develop their intelligence and stimulate their creativity and imagination. In a survey commissioned by HKTDC [1], 90% of respondents had bought educational or learning aid toys in the past year in the hope of encouraging their children to learn while having fun. The top consideration among those buying toys was to find ones free from hazardous chemicals (with 57% of respondents identifying that as a primary factor). Other popular considerations included safety (48%) and whether it can be “assembled/played with other toys” (48%).

The survey revealed that department stores and hypermarkets are the main channels for mainland parents to buy toys, with 48% of respondents having used them. 24% of  parents shop online through channels such as domestic maternity and baby/online shopping websites/apps, 8% use cross-border e-commerce websites and 7% favour WeChat stores. 85% of the respondents said they would consider buying a totally new brand of toy, suggesting that mainland parents are receptive to new toy brands.

Spending on Baby and Child Toys

The survey found that respondents who had bought toys for their children in the past year spent RMB343 a month on average on these items, accounting for 1.3% of their monthly household income. Among the cities in the survey, parents in Qingdao spent the most on baby and child toys – RMB413 a month on average. The proportion of monthly household income they spent on buying toys (2.0%) was also the highest among all the cities in the survey.

Table: Average Monthly Spending on Baby and Child Toys as Share of Household Income, by City
Table: Average Monthly Spending on Baby and Child Toys as Share of Household Income, by City

Household income directly affects how much a family spends on toys. The higher the income, the greater the amount parents are willing to spend on toys. Respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB30,000 spent RMB399 a month on average on toys, while those with a monthly household income of under RMB15,000 spent just RMB277 a month on average on these items.

Parents with two children or more (“two-child parents”) spent RMB377 a month on average on toys for their youngest child, slightly more than the RMB335 that parents with only one child in the family (“one-child parents”) spent on these items. This suggests that “two-child parents” are spending more on toys than “one-child parents” are.

Table: Average Monthly Spending on Baby and Child Toys as Share of Household Income, by Respondent
Table: Average Monthly Spending on Baby and Child Toys as Share of Household Income, by Respondent

Major Types of Baby and Child Toys Purchased

Mainland parents in general are keen to see their children “win at the starting line”. Thus, irrespective of age groups, the types of toys bought most frequently are those that are educational and/or aid learning, such as toys for training hand-eye co-ordination, learning new words and pronunciation, and stimulating logical thinking. 90% of respondents said they had bought such toys in the past year. Plush doll was the second most popular category of toy (81%) and skateboard/tricycle third (44%).

Parents buy different types of toys to stimulate children’s cognitive development. In the survey, respondents said they had bought many different types of toys for their children in the past year, including remote-control cars, baby walkers, building blocks and puzzles.

Toys should also be commensurate with the abilities and needs of the children they are bought for. Parents with children in the 4-6 age group tend to buy educational toys (95% of respondents said they had done so, a significantly higher percentage than that of the group with children aged one or under). The percentage of parents with children aged one or under buying rattling toys/hand-bells (87%) is also higher than that of other age groups.

Table: Major Types of Baby and Child Toys Purchased
Table: Major Types of Baby and Child Toys Purchased

Price That Parents Are Ready 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 of mainland parents for toys for babies and children, the survey asked: “What is the highest price you are ready to pay for a tricycle?” The average answer to that question among all respondents was RMB327. Respondents from Suzhou, however, are ready to pay RMB341, the highest average answer given by any of the surveyed cities; while those from Changsha are only ready to pay RMB305, the lowest figure.

Table: Highest Price Respondents are Ready to Pay for a Tricycle, by City
Table: Highest Price Respondents are Ready to Pay for a Tricycle, by City

The higher the respondent’s income, the more they are ready to pay for a tricycle. The highest price that respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB30,000 are ready to pay (RMB343) is significantly higher than the price that respondents with a monthly household income of under RMB15,000 are ready to pay (RMB299). There is not much difference in the price that respondents from other groups are ready to pay.

Table: Highest Price Respondents are Ready to Pay for a Tricycle, by Respondent Group
Table: Highest Price Respondents are Ready to Pay for a Tricycle, by Respondent Group

Major Considerations in Buying

Respondents in the survey identified three major considerations in buying toys for babies and children, namely, “no hazardous chemicals” (chosen as a top three consideration by 57% of respondents), “safety” (48%) and “can be assembled/played with other toys” (48%). Respondents from Shanghai gave much more weight than those in other cities to “no hazardous chemicals” (70%), “safety” (59%), “brand image/word-of-mouth” (51%) and “quality” (45%). There is not much difference in the considerations of respondents from other cities when buying these items.

“No hazardous chemicals” and “safety” were also identified by respondents as the top considerations in buying toys for babies and children in a similar survey in 2013 [2]. These two factors are crucial in affecting parents’ choice in buying toys.

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

“Two-child parents” give more weight to “educational/aids learning” (52%) and “place of origin” (28%) than “one-child parents” do. On the other hand, “one-child parents” care more about “safety” (49%) and “brand image/word-of-mouth” (40%) than “two-child parents”, probably because they have no previous experience in raising children.

Table: Considerations of Respondents in Buying Baby and Child Toys, by Respondent Group
Table: Considerations of Respondents in Buying Baby and Child Toys, by Respondent Group

Major Channels for Buying: Department Stores and Hypermarkets

Department stores and hypermarkets were the most popular places to buy toys, with 48% of respondents using them in the past year. A significantly greater proportion of respondents from Qingdao bought toys from hypermarkets (58%) than from department stores (49%). Respondents from Chengdu most frequently bought toys from chain-operated maternity and baby stores (45%). In the view of an agent for baby and child products in Sichuan, when a new baby and child brand tries to enter the market in the second- and third-tier cities, co-operating with a maternity and baby store through a local agent can help the brand establish a professional image because these stores have considerable influence in the rural market and have a better grasp of the local marketing channels.

According to this agent, it is more advisable to set up counters in department stores when a brand tries to enter the market in first-tier cities, because department stores tend to attract higher-end consumers. Their heavy in-store traffic can also quickly improve brand recognition among consumers. Respondents from Beijing (47%), Shanghai (49%) and Guangzhou (51%) most often bought toys from department stores.

Respondents from Shanghai are markedly more likely than those in other cities in the survey to buy toys online. 35% of the respondents from Shanghai said they had used domestic maternity and baby/online shopping websites or apps to buy toys in the past year, a percentage considerably higher than the overall figure (24%). The percentage of respondents from Shanghai buying toys directly from overseas websites (14%) is also markedly higher than the overall figure (5%).

Table: Channels for Buying Baby and Child Toys, by City
Table: Channels for Buying Baby and Child Toys, by City

More “two-child parents” buy toys from hypermarkets (51%) than from chain-operated maternity and baby stores (44%) and department stores (43%). Hypermarkets sell all kinds of goods, such as food, household goods, clothing, stationery and toys, making it convenient for parents to do one-stop shopping. Moreover, since “two-child parents” are busier taking care of children than “one-child parents”, they generally prefer going to supermarkets to buy toys.

The higher the household income of respondents, the more likely they are to go to department stores to buy toys. Among respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB30,000, 52% say they would buy toys from department stores, a percentage markedly higher than respondents with a monthly household income of under RMB15,000 (40%). The percentage of “two-child parents” asking their friends to buy toys overseas for them (18%) is significantly higher than the percentage of “one-child parents” doing so (7%).

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

Online/Offline Publicity and Shopping Loop

Bricks-and-mortar outlets are the main channels for mainland parents to buy toys for babies and children, and to access information on these products (60% of respondents had done so). The percentage of respondents from Wuhan obtaining information on toys from physical stores (70%) was significantly higher than the percentages in the other cities in the survey. Other popular information channels were online maternity and child forums (45%) and WeChat public accounts/subscription accounts (39%), both of which are online channels. The percentage of respondents from Shanghai using online maternity and baby forums to access information (60%) is significantly higher than that in other surveyed cities.

Mobile apps and social media have witnessed rapid growth on the mainland in recent years. Besides using apps for sales purposes, some companies also use social media to push brand and product information to consumers. According to a state-owned enterprise on the mainland, the use of mobile app and the opening of WeChat store has made it possible to digitalise information on customers, products, marketing, sales and other matters and track customers’ preferences and spending power through the integration of enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other technologies. Through big data analysis, it can more accurately target product promotion to suit customers’ personal needs, such as by offering e-coupons for maternity and baby products to customers through WeChat. Through sales promotion and discount offers, online stores and physical stores can work together to create an online/offline publicity and shopping loop.

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

40% of parents with children aged one or under in the family depend on recommendations from relatives and friends for information on toys for children – a greater percentage than that for parents with children in other age groups. It is believed that first-time parents depend more on relatives and friends for information sharing.

Higher-income parents are more likely to depend on “TV/radio commercials” for information on toys. Only 27% of the respondents with a monthly household income of under RMB15,000 say they depend on “TV/radio commercials” for information on toys, but 38% 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 toys through “recommendations from salespersons” (36%) 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 Toys, by Respondent Group
Table: Channels for Accessing Information on Baby and Child Toys, by Respondent Group

Readiness to Try New Brands

In general, focus group participants said that although imported brands of toys for babies and children are expensive, they feel safe about letting their children play with them on their own because the quality of these products is guaranteed. Some parents thought that toys of mainland brands had poor workmanship and were of dubious quality. They were particularly worried that toy parts that fall off might be swallowed by children. Other parents, however, have considerable faith in mainland-manufactured toys because some internationally renowned toy companies have established branches on the mainland or are co-operating with mainland manufacturers to produce toys. Even so, they are still inclined to choose famous mainland brands.

Some respondents pointed out that most of the popular toys on the mainland, such as 4WD toys and spinners, are tie-ins of domestic cartoon movies. Since the popularity of cartoon character toys is often short-lived and are easily replaced by other toys, they say they do not mind buying imitation products for their children.

The respondents taking the questionnaire were asked: “If a totally new brand of toys for babies and children was launched on the mainland, would you consider trying it?” Overall, 85% of the respondents say they would, 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 Shanghai (93%) and lowest in Changsha (80%).

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

It is worth pointing out that the percentage of “two-child parents” willing to consider trying a new toy brand (79%) is markedly lower than that of “one-child parents”. This is probably because “two-child parents” already have a brand preference and so their willingness to consider buying a new brand is lower. The higher the household income, the higher the percentage of parents who are happy to give new brands a try. Among respondents with a monthly household income of under RMB15,000, 81% said they were willing to consider giving new brands a try as opposed to 89% among respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB30,000.

Table: Share of Respondents Ready to Try New Brands of Baby and Child Toys, by Respondent Group
Table: Share of Respondents Ready to Try New Brands of Baby and Child Toys, by Respondent Group

Summary

Mainland parents hope to use different types of toys to stimulate their children’s thinking and curiosity, which explains why they often buy educational toys. The toy market has been driven by mainland cartoon movies in recent years and cartoon-derived toys are welcomed by children. Hong Kong companies keen on developing the mainland toy market may consider co-operating with mainland cartoon movie producers to produce related toys through brand licensing.

The survey shows that “no hazardous chemicals” and “safety” are parents’ major considerations in buying toys for their children. Hong Kong companies may apply for international safety certification to increase parents’ confidence in their products. This is especially true for toys targeting children aged 3 or under, because young children may put toys in their mouth. The products may affect children’s health if the material or paint is hazardous or if the parts fall off easily.

Although bricks-and-mortar outlets remain the main channels for mainland parents to buy toys and access information, many parents now like to buy toys online and share product information through maternity and baby forums and WeChat. Online sales and publicity are not costly and can cover the entire mainland market. Hong Kong companies should not overlook opportunities that can be tapped online.

 

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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