Singles shaping consumption transformation
Prioritization of personal happiness, pursuit of life quality over family creating demand for new products and services
Guo, a 22-year-old single woman, once visited a restaurant in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, where customers sat alone in cubicles and each table had a mobile phone charger.
The restaurant was designed for people dining by themselves, allowing them to enjoy dinner in a private space. “So that you don’t have to share a table with strangers,” said Guo, who only gave her surname.
Guo broke up with her boyfriend in 2018. Now, rather than going to films and dining out, she orders takeout, plays computer games and watches TV. Top items on her shopping list include small bags of snacks, skin care products and commodities that can “make my life more comfortable” such as eye massage devices.
The number of single people in China is rising. In 2018, it reached 240 million, or 17 percent of the total population, and the marriage rate was 7.2 percent, the lowest in the past decade, especially in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics and the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
About 27 percent of women aged 25 to 29 were unmarried by 2015, while only 5 percent of women born in the 1960s were unmarried at the same age, according to a report in the People’s Daily Overseas Edition.
Yang Xiong, a researcher from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told youth.cn that values have changed amid the social and economic development.
Many people don’t regard marriage and family as priorities any more. Instead, they attach more importance to realizing their dreams and seeking a higher quality of life, he said.
More well-educated white-collar employees with stable incomes are choosing to be single, especially women in urban areas, who are economically independent and are beginning to re-examine women’s roles in society, according to a report from Boston Consulting Group.
Zhao Lianxue, 28, a media worker in Beijing, said she had been single for four years, and she enjoyed her life.
Zhao has done many things alone, including climbing mountains, sightseeing, shopping and dining out. She said she felt OK most of time, although she felt “offended” when some colleagues showed off their Valentine’s Day gifts on WeChat Moments.
She once visited a Haidilao hotpot restaurant, where waiters “kindly” put a huge stuffed bear in the opposite seat if a customer comes alone.
“It’s sweet … but I really don’t think it is necessary. I’m happy to eat by myself,” she said.
Businesses targeting single consumers have also sprung up in response to the trend, especially in the innovative development of the retail and service sectors, experts said.
Singletons play an important role in the domestic consumption market. They prefer convenience, entertainment and enjoyment in seeking a higher quality of life, according to Boston Consulting.
Zhao, for example, spends about 2,000 yuan ($281) on makeup and clothes every month.
Lin Zinan, 24, a reporter in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, agreed saying that she tends to buy things to please herself, including earphones, cutting-edge sound devices, aromatherapy products, candles and other small items that make her happy.
A Guojin Securities report showed single consumers are more willing to pay for convenience－they love to visit nearby convenience stores, and takeout is the top selection for dinner.
Lin said she orders takeouts three to four times a week, spending about 20 to 40 yuan each time, because “dining out alone is no fun”. She is also a fan of online life services, such as assigning someone to fetch packages or fix the toilet.
“I don’t experience any inconvenience in my single life thanks to the internet,” she said.
About 130 million single people ordered takeout on major food delivery platform Meituan-Dianping in 2017. Consumers aged from 20 to 30 contributed 65 percent to its order quantity, data from the company showed.
The Guojin Securities report also showed the motivation for single consumers is doing what they please, gaining better experience, satisfying spiritual needs and improving skills.
Lin also paid about 6,000 yuan to 7,000 yuan for guitar lessons and a private tutor to enrich her spare time.
Wang Zhe, an economics lecturer at Macquarie University, said the ultimate purpose of consumption is to bring happiness to consumers. As such, single people are more willing to pay for products and services that can ease their sense of loneliness.
Guo has spent about 1,000 yuan on online games. In one game that targets female players, virtual handsome young men send greetings and chat with the players. The more you pay, the more attention you get, she said.
Lin said she really wanted a cat like many of her single friends. “Pets can bring consolation and companionship, and create emotional links similar to those among family members,” she said.
A report from consultancy Frost& Sullivan showed the Chinese pet market reached 172.2 billion yuan in 2018, and about 39 percent of pet owners were single.
More proof of the booming singles economy is the growing segment of small-sized commodities, ranging from refrigerators, ovens, and washing machines to tableware, food and beverages, Cao Jie from the public and client communications department of e-commerce giant Alibaba told cnr.com.
Single consumers need mini home appliances and furniture with complete functionality. And more brands have invested in smaller packaging and more careful designs, Cao said, adding that mini refrigerators and small bottles of wine sell well on the platform.
“The singles group brings great market demand,” Cao said.
There are also niche business such as mini karaoke booths, mini gyms and capsule hotels. Mini karaoke booths are often found in shopping malls, cinemas and subway stations. They have an area of about 2 square meters to provide a more private environment.
According to mini karaoke booth brand Mida Minik, the products and services are mainly used by single people and young unmarried couples, and the company’s annual revenue grew by about 300 percent from 2014 to 2017.
Li Daxiao, chief economist at Shenzhen-based Yingda Securities, said the market is still not developed enough to serve the growing number of single consumers, either in terms of products or related studies, as the main focus is still on family-based consumers.
There are more possibilities such as cars with one or two seats, restaurants catering to single people and small apartments, he said.
Though he agrees that the purchasing power of the singles group is strong－mainly in the fields of culture, entertainment and emotional comfort－it’s still weaker than the non-singles group, who are putting massive resources into raising children and supporting families.