While some adjustments are fairly predictable, there have been some interesting, unexpected changes in what men are buying. Let’s have a look at the expected and less predictable moves.
Interests: Video games, electronics and automobiles
Men are more willing to spend money on their interests, especially on entertainment like games. They usually spend money topping up their mobile games by purchasing game credits or paying for subscriptions on music or e-book platforms. More than 70 per cent of male consumers spent over $US78 on games in the past year.
When it comes to brand marketing, particularly for gaming and electronic devices, it’s a common practice to choose celebrities, famous characters or do cross-branding that reflects the brand image and resonates with men. Nostalgia marketing with classic animated characters and movies have been very successful recently.
In April, Chinese smartphone brand OnePlus launched a new smartphone model, the OnePlus 9R, and announced the famous Japanese character Ultraman Tiga as their product ambassador. The brand connected with the audience using a beloved character that represents reliability, trust and fighting for what’s right.
The rise of sneakerheads
There are plenty of sneakerheads in China, especially in Gen Z. Trendy trainers for men are like designer shoes for women. As of April 2021, there were over 24.6 million male users on the two biggest e-commerce and lifestyle platforms featuring trendy sports content and products, Dewu (得物) and Shihuo (识货). Moreover, 80 per cent of male consumers spent more than $US155 on trendy sports shoes in the past year. And it is estimated that the market size of trendy shoes in China will surpass $US14 billion in 2022.
In addition to large, international brands like Nike, Adidas, Converse, New Balance and Puma, male consumers have gradually shifted their attention to domestic brands like Li-Ning and Anta.
Behind this shift toward domestic brands are improved product quality, affordable prices, improved originality in product design, an increase in co-branded products that incorporate strong cultural symbols or characters that have reignited a passion for Chinese culture and the Guochao trend of rising national pride. This has rebuilt confidence in domestic brands and consumers are increasingly supporting them.
Recently, Erke (鸿星尔克), a domestic sportswear brand, won the public’s heart and appreciation after it donated 50 million RMB worth of food supplies and other aid to flood-hit Henan province in July. The public was surprised to see this small brand make such a big donation. As a result, this once little-known brand witnessed a sales explosion. As of July 27, much of Erke’s offline inventory was sold out, and its sales on Taobao also soared by 50 times from the week before.
Skincare and makeup
Mirroring international trends, one of the biggest changes in men’s consumer behaviour is that they’ve started to care more about their physical appearance and are spending more on skincare and makeup, products that used to be almost exclusively for women. What’s more, it was reported that 185 million male consumers have either followed or browsed content produced by makeup bloggers.
Ideas of masculinity are being strongly influenced by male role models in the entertainment industry. Most skincare and makeup brands work with attractive male celebrities as brand ambassadors. China is also home to popular male makeup live e-commerce personality Li Jiaqi, known as the “King of Lipstick”, who has helped to normalise the association between men and makeup products.
One example of a brand making a shift is Mentholatum, a lip care brand that has mostly used women as brand representatives in the past. It has developed a product line for men and selected movie star Eddie Peng as the brand ambassador for the line. Other brands that are popular among male consumers include L’Oréal, Gillette and domestic brand L’Sphere.
During last year’s Double 11 Shopping Festival, iiMedia’s statistics showed that there was a considerable increase of about 30 per cent in the sales volume of skincare products such as cream and toner for men, while the stocks of imported male makeup products also increased by 30 times compared to 2019. It’s predicted that the men’s grooming market in China will surpass $US 2.8 billion this year.
With more men paying attention to their appearance, another notable change is the increasing use of aesthetic medical procedures by men. Standards for male attractiveness in China, especially for young men, have changed due to strong influences from cultural forces like TV, movies, idol culture and K-pop. At the same time, as has happened internationally, gender norms are becoming more fluid and there’s strong curiosity among the younger generation to try out new things.
As of May this year, male users accounted for over one third of aesthetic medicine app users, the majority being between 20 and 30 years old. Moreover, Xinyang (新氧), a domestic aesthetic medicine app, indicates that the average amount that male users spend is 2.75 times more than female users.
Hair loss is a particular concern in recent years as stress and China’s 9-9-6 working culture (working from 9am to 9pm six days a week) are taking their toll on hairlines. The most popular procedures for young men are hair transplants, hyaluronic acid injection and double eyelid surgery.
Maternity and baby products
A surprising change in men’s consumption is that more new fathers have started to purchase maternity and baby products. No longer considered only a woman’s domain, according to data from iiMedia Research, parenting products and services were their biggest expenditures followed by buying things for their wife, loan payments and rent.
Among the maternity and baby product consumers on Tmall International in 2020, men make about a quarter of purchases but the value of their purchases makes up a slightly higher proportion of the total value.
This reflects recent shifts in thinking when it comes to traditional roles and the fact that more fathers are involved in parenting activities. Statistics from Taobao Live indicate that post-80s men, particularly, are spending more time with their family. In addition to maternity and baby products, they’re also spending more items such as home appliances and automobiles.
To reach this huge consumer group, social media and e-commerce platforms are important channels, as male consumers make use of these platforms to look for product information and other users’ feedback. For example, on short video platform Douyin, one fourth of the viewers of content related to skincare and makeup were men as of Q3 2020. Meanwhile, the search volume for skincare and makeup content on Douyin contributed by male users grew from 16 per cent in January to 23 per cent in November last year.
It is also worth noting that there are important niche and vertical platforms for men. Platforms like Dewu and Shihuo, where there are communities built around sports, sportswear, digital products and personal grooming, shouldn’t be ignored.