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The Chinese Consumer Digital Journey — to Success?

What is the Chinese consumer journey?

The Chinese consumer journey refers to the process that the Chinese consumer goes through in the journey of purchasing a product. Although extensive, the consumer journey can typically be broken down into 2 segments, Principal and Supplementary.


  • The principal segment consist of 4 stages in which a consumer goes through, and encompasses when they first notice the product to when they purchase the product. These consist of: Interest, Awareness, Research, Purchase.
  • The supplementary segment consist of 3 phases: Evaluation, Advocation/Criticism and Recommendation. Unlike principal, these do not have any impact on the purchase of the product, and instead determines how the customer will affect the brand after the product purchase, i.e. will they become a repeat customer, will they recommend the product to other people.


Maximising influence among these will be pivotal to getting the most out of each customer, with benefits extending far beyond just a single sale.




1. Interest

The Chinese consumer journey begins when a consumer’s interest is piqued by a particular kind of product. During this stage, the consumer is intrigued by a product, but are not yet convinced to purchase. At this point it is up to the brand to figure out how best to reach a consumer.


Here are several things that brands can focus on to help increase effectiveness during this stage:


  • Lifestyle websites
  • Social Media
  • News
  • Blogs
  • Traditional advertising media


With the consumer’s interest being the start-point, being able to communicate and establish something that catches the consumers attention is crucial and can be achieved in a number of ways i.e. an effective marketing campaign, enticing social media content, word-of-mouth. Regardless of how a brand goes about it, the key is to be able to give the customer a reason there and then to do business with them over a competitor.


2. Awareness

The next stage is awareness of a specific product. In this stage, customer opinion is slowly being shaped by the personal and impersonal  sources of information they come across.



While the interest phase of the consumer’s journey got brands to revolve their strategies around giving consumers a reason to consider purchasing, this stage should have brands focus on maintaining that interest while providing them with a positive image of the product. This is done through Baidu, Pay-per-click rich html ads, celebrity posts by Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) or their friends on Weibo and WeChat.


In most cases, the opinion that is shaped can have a strong impact on how they approach and react to what they learn during the next stage: Research.


3. Research

Research is key to informing purchasing decisions, and for a consumer who already has a positive image of the product, seeing positive reviews and feedback to enforce those opinions will easily improve their expectations and excitement for the product tenfold, while the vice versa is also true.


On that note, it should come with no surprise that products will mostly always have at least a few voices of negativity targeted at them online. And with 49% of Chinese shoppers saying they usually consult social media before making a purchase, brands definitely need to ensure that they’ve put in effort to cover the following bases:


  • Baidu
  • Weibo
  • WeChat
  • Online Review Sites
  • Forums
  • Official Product Websites
  • E-commerce sites


While consumers are researching these sites, popular KOLs and peers are very important as they are seen as knowledgeable and trustworthy. For this reason, having figures that the consumer can relate to and admire, to represent your brand on a range of platforms can make the difference between the decision to purchase and the decision to cancel.


4. Purchase

This stage is where the customer looks to find out where, when and how they can purchase the product in China. It is of utmost importance that a brand make it easy for the customer to do every one of those, and as such punishes brands for unmaintained Chinese landing pages and empty social channels.


All brands operating in China or targeting Chinese customers with their products should ask themselves:


  • Does the brand have an official Chinese website?
  • Is the brand’s social media optimised and up-to-date with relevant promotional information and brand details?
  • Is it possible to reach trusted e-commerce platforms from the brand’s social media or website?
  • Is the product available to buy legally in China?
  • Can purchasing information be found easily?



If the customer has been consistently satisfied throughout the principal segment, it is likely that this is where they purchase the product, marking the conclusion of the core stages. However, more often than not, a brand will want more than a one-time sale, and that is where the supplementary segment of the journey comes in.


Brands typically do not have full control over this segment, and results are mostly reliant on how the brand engaged the customer during the first four stages. As mentioned earlier, this segment of stages determines how the customer will affect the brand after the purchase. Let’s take a closer look at how.



5. Evaluation


During evaluation, the customer decides on their level of satisfaction for the purchased product. In general, the customer’s level of satisfaction can have a strong effect on the following stages in this segment of the consumer journey. While brands generally don’t have control during the evaluation, there are things they can do to maximise a positive result. Here are four questions that customers will be asking themselves and that brands should take into consideration:


  • Was the product a good fit for their needs?
  • What was their purchasing experience like?
  • What is the quality of the product like?
  • How long did it take to arrive?


The reason that brands should take extra steps to address the questions and ensure that they have done the best they can to influence positive answers to said questions, is because it is the key to whether or not the customer will come back to purchase again in the future.


6. Advocacy/Criticism

At this point a Chinese consumer is highly likely to post about their experience on social media platforms. Naturally, depending on the level of contentedness they felt during the process of deciding to purchase along with how satisfied they were with the actual product, their review of the product will differ.


One option for brands to maximise the chance of a positive social media response would be to implement a follow-up subscription email system. With it, they could send an email to any consumer thanking consumers for the purchases.


  • Further on this idea, they could incorporate a subscription-based reward system including possible gift coupons and discounts in the future giving consumers, especially Chinese consumers, a reason for repeat visits.
  • This would give brands an easy opportunity to further improve the relationship between them and the customer, while at the same time generating potential revenue in the form of repeat traffic.


7. Recommendation

Finally, this phase represents the positive (or negative) impact one consumer might have on another customer’s journey. Feeding back to the first three stages of the customer journey, the very public praise or disapproval of a brand or product can impact other consumer’s impressions on it.


Like the previous two, while brands cannot directly control this phase, they can still take steps to ensure that customers have had the best experience possible and in turn, increase the chance that the customer will respond positively — which in this case, would mean new customers.



So what can brands do to optimise their consumer journey?

Being able to optimise the consumer journey is of utmost importance, as it not only affects the purchase of a product, but also plays a part in influencing traffic and sales for the future. The most straightforward way for any brand to optimise its customer journey is to have an up-to-date and active presence on the social media platforms that their consumers are on.


However for brands that want to take it a step further, they will have to:


  • Engage with Chinese KOLs
  • Read and respond to reviews (both positive and negative)
  • Buy media and ad space in the right places at the right times
  • Constant improvement of all of the above


It’s no secret that keeping up with China’s social scene, or the changing nature of the consumer journey, but there’s no doubt that it’s worth it. Understanding and maximising effectiveness through optimising the Chinese consumer journey for your brand is only the first step in being able to stand out in the dynamic and competitive market, but will be one that will pay off tremendously.