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China’s Green Shoppers: Purchasing Behaviour

The demand for green products among mainland consumers has been rising in recent years. According to a series of focus group discussions [1] commissioned by HKTDC Research on the Chinese mainland, while more consumers are turning to online sources for the information of goods they intend to buy, offline channels remain a more trusted option, particularly for those living in second-tier cities. Although the share of green purchases bought online on the Chinese mainland has grown significantly over the past couple of years, the quality of products purchased online remains a major concern for mainland consumers. Ingredients, brand, certification mark and materials used are the common major factors they take into consideration when they shop for different categories of green products, along with several other considerations which may vary slightly depending on product type.

Information Channels

Many mainland consumers, especially younger ones, prefer to obtain information from online sources. Most of the focus group participants said they would first consult Baidu when coming across something new and unfamiliar. Specifically, young consumers in first-tier cities tend to pay more attention to messages pushed by official WeChat accounts. Many of them would also follow the Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) blog for expert opinions and search the Zhihu and Douban websites for relevant information. As for middle-aged consumers in second-tier cities, while they may also get information from online channels like Weibo and Moments, they tend to attach more importance to advertisements and promotional messages in the offline world.

Although mainland consumers increasingly go online for the information they need, it seems offline channels remain the more trusted option, particularly for consumers in second-tier cities. TV commercials and variety shows with title sponsorship are regarded as more reliable as they arguably reflect the sponsors’ financial strength. Nowadays, attracting consumers’ attention through official websites of companies and brands, official WeChat accounts and mobile apps has probably become the standard practice for brand building.

Among the online information channels mentioned at the focus groups, Baidu, online reviews, buyers’ comments, Weibo, Moments, official WeChat accounts, the Little Red Book blog and Zhihu/Douban are the ones that are most frequently cited. As for offline channels, the most popular ones are shopping malls, advertising screens, salespeople, product labels, samples handed out at retail outlets, friends and relatives, advertisements at metro/public transport station platforms, community promotional activities, TV commercials and variety shows with title sponsorship.

Purchase Considerations

According to the focus group discussions, mainland consumers basically consider a number of factors, including ingredients, brand, certification mark and materials used, when shopping for different categories of green products. Several other factors may also be brought into consideration, and these will vary depending on the sort of product being bought.

Factors to Consider When Buying Different Types of Green Products

Green Food-  Safety
-  Raw materials used
-  Production process
-  Pesticide residues
-  Organic
-  Expiry date
Household Product-  Ingredients
-  Brand
-  Made of 100% plant materials
-  Phosphorus free
-  Price
Personal Care Product-  Ingredients
-  100% natural materials
-  Brand
-  Place of origin
-  Word of mouth
-  Celebrity endorsement
-  Made of 100% plant materials
Baby and child Product-  Brand
-  Textures of materials used
-  Word of mouth
-  Place of origin
-  Certification mark
Clothing and Accessories-  Ingredients
-  Washing label
-  Brand
-  Functions
-  Price-performance ratio
-  Design
Home Appliance-  Brand
-  Product standard
-  Functions
-  Price-performance ratio
-  Place of origin
-  Energy saving
-  Low noise
Furniture and Building Material-  Ingredients
-  Brand
-  Certification mark
-  Textures of materials used
-  Price
-  Manufacturer
-  Formaldehyde content

Promotion Strategy of New Brands

The major ways of promoting new brands of eco-friendly products include advertisement, certification, unique selling point, packaging and pricing. Respondents generally felt that the first step to be taken when promoting a new green brand is to build up its reputation through advertisements, followed by the acquisition of certification marks which need to be widely publicised. Products should have their unique selling points, and packaging is also important. As for pricing, it has to be affordable and reasonable. If samples are handed out, consumers are usually willing to try. The focus group participants had the following suggestions:

“Outstanding product features should be highlighted on its packaging in written form.”

“Source of the raw materials must be spelled out, specifying the place of origin and purity.”

“If the standards of a product are clearly stated, we’ll know what to expect.”

Mainland consumers regard community service advertising as a good way of introducing a new brand or product, supported by offline advertisements and promotion. This practice not only ties in with the current trend on the mainland, but can also positively impress consumers.

Mainland consumers find promotional advertisements featuring the production process or trial experiments of a product more reliable. Publicity on eco-friendly production process can increase consumers’ awareness of and preference for the green products concerned. According to some respondents, manufacturers’ publicity and educational efforts on environmental protection can leave a deeper impression of the brands on consumers who might, in turn, take the initiative to promote the brands for them. The following are some of the views expressed at the focus groups:

“In my opinion, manufacturers of green products should publicise more as channels to understand product features are limited. In fact, many elderly people like my mom hardly know anything about green products.”

“If I could visit the production plant and see how the products are manufactured, I’ll feel more assured.”

“I think (the companies) could organise some activities that benefit the public. Instead of direct marketing, for example, they can hand out brochures or provide simple body checks free of charge in schools and communities.”

“This organisation is a foundation set up by business operators on a voluntary basis in Inner Mongolia. It plants trees in Inner Mongolia every year.”

As the focus group discussions made clear, there is a strong demand among mainland consumers for eco-friendly products, and they are highly receptive to green products and brands newly launched on the market. Eco-friendly products and new green brands with outstanding features and reliable qualities can quickly and easily tap into this fast-moving market, as mainland consumers are generally more open and supportive to new product concepts. For example, “corn material” and “unbleached paper” are two new green concepts that have emerged over the past two years and are now widely embraced by mainland consumers. While these concepts have generated a number of brands, consumer awareness has not been particularly focused on any single brand. The following remarks were heard at the focus groups:

“My baby is using a new set of cutlery said to be made of corn, a material which is very safe and not harmful to health. In the past, many families used plastic ones. Using corn materials sounds more eco-friendly too.”

“This environmentally friendly recycled paper is made of bamboo fibres. Paper in this colour is very soft to touch.”

Purchase Channels

Consumers’ preference for green purchase channels varies by product type:

Green Food-  Food items are mostly purchased offline where they can be seen and touched
-  Heavy food items such as rice can be purchased online for home delivery, which is more convenient than buying at supermarkets
Household Products-  Online and offline purchases are both common
-  Supermarkets are major offline channels
-  Major online channels include JD.com, Yihaodian and Tmall
Personal Care Products-  Skincare products are mostly purchased from dedicated counters for more reliable product quality
-  Other personal care products can be purchased online or offline
Baby and Child Products-  Mother and baby product stores as well as dedicated counters offer more reliable and authentic products
-  Imported goods are mostly purchased through overseas shopping websites, and many are brought back by friends or relatives
Clothing and Accessories-  These products are mostly purchased at physical stores which allow consumers to touch the products and feel the quality; online purchase does not offer the ability to check fitting
Home Appliances-  Large items are purchased at large home appliance stores where products offered are more reliable
-  Purchases will also be made at the online flagship stores of specific brands or online stores run by manufacturers themselves
-  Small items can be purchased online or offline
Furniture and Building Material-  Purchases are mostly made offline at large furniture or building material markets which are more reliable
-  As large items involve delivery and installation process, they are seldom purchased online

The robust development of e-commerce on the Chinese mainland has driven more and more consumers to shop online, though they still express concern over the quality offered by online purchases. Consumers are becoming increasingly rational in choosing the purchase channels of different product types. From the responses in the focus group discussions, it is apparent that consumers in first-tier cities make online purchases more frequently than those in second-tier cities. According to the respondents, their online purchases have grown by some 20% or more over the past two years.

Buying green products does not affect the shopping habits of mainland consumers whose purchase decisions still depend a lot on the importance and the purchase frequency of an item. For the purchase of durable consumer goods such as home appliances, furniture and building materials, consumers tend to make plans in advance and do research on related products. Such research, however, is usually confined to major brands familiar to them. Personal care and household products are often associated with habitual purchases, though consumers are willing to try different brands from time to time. The purchase of baby and child products usually follows the popular trend, relying more on word of mouth recommendations and the comments of other parents. Purchases of clothing and accessories are obviously more impulsive, whereas food items are purchased out of both habit and impulse. In comparison to the way consumers buy ordinary goods, purchasing green products usually involves much more comparison. Respondents said they would examine the certification marks and read online reviews.

Brand Preference

Mainland consumers’ preference of green product brands varies slightly by product type, yet the price premiums they are willing to pay are similar. For green foods, household products, home appliances and furniture and building materials, consumers prefer well-known mainland brands, followed by international brands. For personal care products and baby and child products, they go for international brands, followed by well-known mainland brands. No obvious brand preference is noted for purchases of clothing and accessories. In fact, all brands are acceptable, depending on personal needs.

As regards the acceptable price premium in relation to different product qualities, the respondents are willing to pay 40-50% more for well-known international brands, although 20% is deemed more reasonable. For well-known mainland brands and well-known Hong Kong brands, they would pay 20-30% more at most, with 10-15% being considered more reasonable. The acceptable premium levels for other international, mainland and Hong Kong brands are similar, lying within the range of 10-15%.




Environmental pollution and food safety issues have been prevalent on the mainland for some time. As educational and income levels go up and living standards improve, Chinese consumers’ environmental awareness and demand for green products are also on the rise. Meanwhile, the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan also supports green consumption. In order to help Hong Kong companies tap the mainland market, HKTDC Research commissioned a series of consumer focus group discussions to gauge the attitudes and preferences of mainland consumers about green products.


The study was conducted in Shanghai and Guangzhou (first-tier cities) and in Wuhan and Chengdu (second-tier cities) in March 2017. A total of eight consumer focus group discussions were held in these cities (two in each city). The aim of the discussions was to achieve a deeper understanding of the attitudes of mainland consumers towards green products.

Focus Group Design

Surveyed citiesShanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Chengdu
Number of groups64 participants divided into eight groups. Two for each city.
Grouping divisionGroup 1 (eight people, aged 25-35)
Group 2 (eight people, aged 36-45)
Profile of participants-  Has lived in the city for at least one year
-  Has bought green products in at least two categories in the past six months
-  Principal member of the family in buying green products
-  Has higher awareness and better understanding of green products
-  Monthly household income:
    --  Shanghai and Guangzhou: RMB15,000 or above
    --  Chengdu and Wuhan: RMB9,000 or above
Other demographicsAmong the 64 participants:
-  Women (58%); men (42%)
-  50% have children aged 0-6
-  69% have university education
-  38% have monthly household income of RMB15,000-20,000; 33% have monthly household income of RMB20,001-30,000


[1]  See Appendix for details of the focus group discussions.

Content provided by Picture: Billy Wong
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