Ashley Galina Dudarenok, founder of Chinese social media agency Alarice and marketing training agency Chozan, speaks with Ada Yang for our latest episode of The China E-commerce Podcast to discuss the post-Covid consumer trends to look out for and what to expect as we head into the fourth quarter and 2021.
The following is an edited and condensed transcript of the podcast:
Can you share about a little about yourself? What brought you to China? What has made you start your career as a china marketing strategist?
I was actually born in the Russian Far East, so we are literally neighbors and I can confidently say that I'm Asian. When I was 17 years old, that's when I moved to mainland China. I did my degree in Business and Economics at a local university and later started my career. That was a very exciting time in China when social media was just being born and e-commerce was being born. When I moved to China in 2006, it was still in its infancy and I virtually observed it being built. And it was exciting and fun. With the rise of the middle class with the digitization of China, never did I have a doubt that this is the most dynamic market in the world when it comes to e-commerce and social media, of course.
Before you came to China, there must be a lot of misconceptions about this country. You don't really know what is actually happening here, especially 15 years ago. After living here for more than a decade, what are the misconceptions and the things that the West absolutely does not know about the Chinese consumers? And what are the biggest changes that you have observed over the past decade here?
The West in general is a lot more familiar with China because before it was complete darkness and complete misunderstanding of the consumer landscape 15 years ago. And essentially, the vision, the strategy, and the path forward were different. We now understand that China is complex, but probably the level of that complexity, coupled with the speed is something that people are still not quite ready to grasp.
Mainland China is full of subcultural groups. You can be 200 kilometers apart in terms of the city, but miles and miles apart in the way you live and you perceive yourself and the type of products or lifestyle that you're after. The complexity and size of the market is really a problem. And at the same time, speed. It changes so fast, within 3-4 months, very rarely in the rest of the world, you will see significant changes in consumer behavior, perception, and the sentiment. But in China, it does happen that fast.
To summarize, all that understanding of China is a lot better than it was before. But still, the complexity, and the speed of China is still a challenge. And there's no way around it.
2020 is a big year and it's a very difficult year, it has brought many changes to people's lives. On a personal level, what are the biggest changes it has brought to you personally? And on a professional level, how did the consumer behavior shift this year and any new trends that you observed?
Let’s start with that 2020 is a great year for accelerating a lot of digital trends. On a personal level, it is very uncomfortable because you are just being pushed and pulled by this digitization by the pandemic but ultimately it is good because it accelerates all the right things. On the professional side, with all the changes, businesses shouldn’t look at consumers as consumers but look at them as people and they are going through exactly the same adjustment. I would say people definitely put their health, safety, and family on top in some first year for many years.
We see people generally in the higher-tier cites, you are upgrading your consumption. You are tired of being stuck there, so people go to eat really nicely and go buy the things that they love. This is the way we entertain ourselves. When it comes to lower-tier cities, they actually start saving a bit more money.
More younger people are looking for companionship, primarily online. We have empowerment movement promoted all across TV shows and popular media about just live lives and care less about societal hurdles.
But again, because China is so complex, it's difficult to put them all in one picture, I just invite companies that are looking to tap into this market or working in this market - shift the angle and lens a bit and look at people as people.
What about growth sectors with huge potential but not are yet addressed. How should business and companies capture these opportunities?
China at this stage is growing on multiple levels and in multiple dimensions, I would say that most of those growth vehicles are addressed. It's just the degree to which they are addressed.
For example, we can talk about lower-tier cities. Do you see it as a huge driver for the next 5 to 10 years? Absolutely no question about it. Are they being addressed? Yes, by many e-commerce companies and brands as well. But are they addressed enough? Not yet. You need to prepare to serve them and understand them, you need to both react to what they want and propose them something they don't want or don't know they want yet.
Look at singles, same thing. We have apartments, education facilities, restaurants, products, even the small home appliances that very popular and indoor as well that have been sold to singles.
Aging population, I believe that this is the most underserved population and opportunity. All these health care plans are talking about recreation, entertainment and education, and fashion. In the next 50 years, this is going to be the largest percentage of the population in China and you need to start including them. We love seeing young happy people on posters and in ads and on social media, but we don't really see enough balanced representation of the society.
Another underserved area, I believe that was boosted by 2019 is definitely health. When we talk about health, it can be physical or psychological. The physical part is served very well. But when we talk about psychological health, this is something that we're not really paying enough attention to. I personally believe that this self-development, personal growth, empowerment to teach people how to use their internal resources and energy, and mindset to push through to get results and to live a happy life and create a safe space for others in your life. That is something that is currently underserved.
Q4 is the last quarter of the year and it's usually a very busy season for e-commerce practitioners. What do you look forward to this year?
Q4 has always been about performance marketing. It's all about “let's sell now.”
People start preparing for yearly sales and start preparing literally in summer. How do we sell merchandise? How do we turn it into a fun shopping extravaganza this year again? Live streaming is at the core of it, of course, entertainment is at the core of it, discounting is at the core of it. If I could give one advice, and that would be smart discounting, you still need to give a deal of your life to your consumers. But be smart about it, probably introduce a new line of products that's only available for this year and festival, or introduce special packages or programs where you are actually converting people into your private pool.
In 2020, a lot of people are trying to be just creative. I would say look at what works and what worked last year, and just do more of the things are going to work and do smart discounting and do live streaming. I would not recommend people to go and start completely new things, just because for this year, we probably need to give people clarity on what are we offering, give them a bit of the entertainment through live streaming and make sure that they feel like a part of the whole movement.
Because right now, as you well know, 11.11 is not only for Pinduoduo, or JD or Alibaba, it's literally across on online-offline channels. So how do you make those people feel that they are getting a service and they are part of this big movement.
First three quarters of the year, you can do all this awesome stuff. Yeah. But for q4, focus on what works, focus on performance marketing and do it smartly and do it nicely and make sure content is great.