Early in March, more than 4,000 people gathered at “Millennial 20/20 Summit” in New York to discuss power of the millennial generation and how they will affect the future of retail.
Chinese millennials, numbering more than 400 million, are a force to be reckoned with. While many have recognized them as ultra-connected consumers, few have realized that this has been caused by their place in history as the only-child generation. This alone sets them apart from other millennials in a most fundamental way.
The one-child generation
Starting from 1979, China implemented the “One-Child Policy” in an effort to control its population growth. The policy lasted for almost 40 years and was only ended recently. During this period, each family in urban China was allowed to have only one child.
Chinese millennials, aged 19 to 35, were all born during the “One-Child Policy” period. These “little emperors” and “little empresses,” as they are often being called, were at the center of their universe when they grew up. They are privileged, entitled, and enjoying a good life.
A privileged generation
Chinese millennials grew up during China’s economic reforms and opening. They have only experienced good times. They have never known the hardships of older generations. To them, life has been good, and will only get better.
They are a privileged generation who benefited significantly from the economic reforms. They also have advantages that their western counterparts don’t have. As I wrote here, they don’t have student loan debt because their parents pay for their educations. Many don’t have housing expenses because their parents or grandparents have bought homes for them.
It’s no surprise that they are free spenders. Without student loan debt and housing expenses, Chinese millennials are free to spend all of their incomes.
An entitled generation
Because Chinese millennials are only-children in their families, they are at the center of attention all the time. Their parents want to give them the best and are eager to satisfy their every wishes.
In addition, their grandparents also want to spoil them. Many grandparents give their “only-grandchilden” large sums of money on occasions such as birthdays, weddings, and Chinese New Year.
This kind of upbringing makes them feel entitled. Some have an inflated sense of self. As consumers, they are extremely demanding. They want good products and services, and they want them fast.
A fun-loving generation
Chinese millennials grew up with the internet and social media. But because they were only children and didn’t have siblings to play with, they turned to the internet as a medium for socializing and entertainment.
That’s why they are extremely active on social media such as Weibo and WeChat, much more so than their western counterparts. A search on Baidu for “post-90s” (those who were born after 1990) you will find images of selfies, punk rock hairstyles, pre-ripped jeans, and even random acts like lighting up a cigarette with a burning 100 yuan note ($13).
They want to enjoy life and have fun. Few want to work hard. Because they grew up socializing and having fun online, shopping to them is not just shopping. It’s socializing and entertainment all merged together.
Chinese millennials have many facets. They can be narcissistic and socially conscious at the same time. They are both nationalistic and westernized. They are more individualistic than older generations, but they also yearn for recognition and yield to conformity.
As a consumer group, they are very promising. They will affect the future of retail in a most profound way.