The Singles' Economy
Next week is Nov. 11, or Singles’ Day (after the numerical date “11.11” that consists of four “bare sticks” that is Chinese slang for a single man). What started out as a marketing gimmick has evolved over the years to become the largest shopping day in the world.
So after waxing lyrical about the trend of consumption upgrade last week, I thought I’d dive into what it means to be single in China and the huge multi-billion-dollar economy behind this growing demographic.
First off, let’s hit you with some stats.
In 2018, there were 240 million unmarried adults in China. Of these, 77 million live by themselves, and this number is expected to rise to 98 million by 2021.
Among the singles in China, 60% are male. Among them, there is relatively low awareness of the need to save, with only 5.4% saying they would save for the future, according to a survey of single men in 16 cities. Without the financial obligations that come with raising a family, and many of them being the only child, many of these singles are choosing to spend on themselves.
A survey by dating platform Zhenai at the end of 2019 found that singles spend most of their money on shopping, socializing and traveling.
As this so-called “singles’ economy” continues to boom, businesses have swarmed to cater to this high-spending demographic.
Single-seat restaurants have sprouted to cater to solo customers (this was pre-pandemic), meal-and-beverage sets for one person are becoming popular. Packaging for everything from rice, wine to daily necessities now come in handy serving sizes for singles. (Once upon a time, I also only had one pair of utensils, one set of plates and mini-sized detergent in my house.)
In the e-commerce industry, singles are already one of the main forces driving online shopping.
Food delivery was a direct beneficiary of the singles’ economy. Almost 65% of take-out orders come from people aged 20 to 30, and eating by oneself has become mainstream. Home appliance makers have come up with smaller appliances – think mini-refrigerator – to cater to the need of singles.
In tourism, solo travel has become fashionable. The trend extends to everything from shopping to watching movies to education and fitness training.
One corollary from living alone is the explosion in keeping pets. In China, over 70% of pet owners are born in the 80s and 90s and most of them are single. An ecosystem has sprouted to support and sell to this market, from online dating apps, personal safety training and equipment (targeting female) to psychological counseling.
Meanwhile, single elderly people are also driving a surge in services targeting those getting on in years. One growing trend is the development of smart-home products for the elderly, from smart speakers reading the news to intelligent refrigerators re-ordering milk.
So as millions around China (and overseas) place their early online orders for Singles’ Day, I leave you with this story about e-commerce in Japan. The two countries may be neighbors, but the attitude to e-commerce could not be more different.
As the story discovers, the needle may finally be moving in Japan for online shopping because of Covid-19, which has forced many offline-only shoppers to seek online alternatives. And once you’ve gone online….
Till next week!