Millennials in China Have an Outsized Impact on Ecommerce Spending - eMarketer

Newsletters Sign-Up

Plans & Pricing

Does My Company Subscribe?

Millennials in China Have an Outsized Impact on Ecommerce Spending

Younger millennials don’t want to simply fit in with the mainstream

December 19, 2016

China’s millennials are already the most digitally active and aware group of consumers on the planet. At more than 400 million strong, they account for almost a third of China’s population and amount to more than the working population of the US and Western Europe combined, according to a new eMarketer report,“China's Millennials: Understanding the Post-80s and Post-90s Generations” (eMarketer PRO customers only).

Retail Ecommerce Spending Share Among Consumers in China, by Age and City Tier, Sep 2015 (% of total spending)

Their spending power is a primary engine not just of China’s growth, but of global economic stability. A September 2015 report from Goldman Sachs estimates that millennials in China will see their aggregate income grow by $3 trillion in the next 10 years, or “more than half of the estimated $5 trillion that would be added to US total private consumption expenditures over the coming decade if the US were to sustain the 3.7% CAGR [compound annual growth rate] that it achieved over the last 10 years.”

In 2016, eMarketer estimates, China’s digital buyer penetration as a percentage of all internet users will reach 65.5%, or 453 million people. Of those, just over one-third will be between the ages of 25 and 34, and roughly 20% will be 18 to 24, together accounting for more than half of all China’s digital buyers. eMarketer expects the 25-to-34 age group will continue to dominate China’s share of digital buyers through at least 2020.

In July 2016, RTG Consulting Group surveyed 4,000 millennial consumers ages 15 to 32 in Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu, evenly parsing them at 2,000 each between Generation Y (in this case, those born between the 1980s and mid-90s) and Generation Z (those born in the mid-90s to 2000s).

Respondents were asked which brands were most relevant to them today, both overall and in a selection of discrete categories. The results showed Xiaomi was the lead brand for the younger generation, while Apple was the most popular for the older group. Apparel brands led the way for Gen Z, with Adidas, Nike, Uniqlo, Zara and Converse taking precedence, compared with tech and ecommerce brands like WeChat, Alipay and Taobao for their older counterparts.

OMD China, in its October 2016 “Rhythm Millennials” report, suggested that it’s time for marketers to set aside assumptions about Post-90s consumers as mere “narcissistic wunderkinds” and focus on the generation’s growing desire to make a difference in the world, whether by minimizing their environmental impact, by charitable contributions or by supporting brands with an ethical image.

Post-90* vs. Total Internet Users in China Who Have Used Smartphone Mcommerce Apps, H1 2016 (% of respondents in each group)

The OMD study also noted that younger millennials don’t want to simply fit in with the mainstream. Two brands that have successfully tapped into this are skincare lines Olay and SK-II. In one spot, Olay shows a young woman who rejects society’s message that she should “go take a shower and sleep”—a Chinese phrase suggesting someone should give up. SK-II’s online video focuses on parents’ expectations for their daughters as regards marriage. It plays on the phrase “leftover woman,” which is used to haunt unmarried women over the age of 25, and the societal pressures this creates—particularly to attend so-called marriage markets. But rather than buckle to the pressure, the women use the marriage market to send a positive message of independence and contented singledom to their parents.

A May 2016 “Future of China” report from OMD showed younger millennials are propelling ecommerce spending in China, with 18- to 25-year-olds accounting for nearly two-fifths of total expenditures compared with about a third for those 26 to 35.

The Data Center of China Internet (DCCI) surveyed more than 2,000 mobile buyers in China during the first half of 2016 and found that mobile commerce app penetration among internet users was higher amongst the Post-90s generation (94.1%) than the overall population (91.9%). Only 5.9% of the Post-90s group had never used a mobile commerce app.

Get more on this topic with the full eMarketer report, “China's Millennials: Understanding the Post-80s and Post-90s Generations.”

eMarketer releases over 200 analyst reports per year, which are only available to eMarketer PRO customers.


  • Go beyond the articles:

    eMarketer Products

    You've never experienced research like this.

  • Hear from our clients:

    Customer Stories

    Nearly all Fortune 500 companies rely on us.

  • Want to learn more?

    Contact Us

    Inquire about corporate subscriptions today.