China’s Watch Shoppers: Consumer Attitudes and Beliefs
14 September 2016
According to the findings of a consumer survey conducted by HKTDC Research  in major mainland cities, middle-class consumers in China wear watches mainly to show off their personal style. They attach great importance to the style and design of watches and are beginning to wear different pieces for different occasions. The majority of respondents indicate that the reason for buying watches is to reward themselves and make themselves happy. In buying watches, brand, style and design are their primary considerations. The higher the household income of the respondents, the more sensitive they are to the place of origin of the brand. As the consumption attitudes of mainland consumers change, it can be expected that prospects for the mainland watch market are bright.
The Perfect Accessory to Express Individuality
In recent years, as smartphones have become increasingly popular, many of the younger generation are using their smartphones to tell the time; however, the majority of the working population will still wear a watch to work. Watches can be used not only for time-telling but for expressing one’s individuality and to serve as a status symbol. According to respondents in our focus group discussions: “Watches should be worn on business occasions to show off one’s maturity and steadiness.” Some respondents who buy mid- to high-end watches said: “Wearing mid- to high-end watches can show that I have certain financial strength.” The survey finds that respondents with monthly household incomes of RMB20,000-40,000 and over RMB40,000 are more likely than the average respondent to believe that wearing watches can “show off one’s maturity and steadiness” and “show off one’s financial strength/social status”.
According to the survey, half of the respondents agree that a reason for wearing watches is to bring out one’s taste and personal style. It is worth noting that 50% of male respondents said they wear watches because they like them, and there is no significant difference between young respondents (aged 18-35) and the more mature group (aged 36-55) in this. By contrast, the main reason for wearing a watch among female respondents is that it is a perfect accessory (55%), with the proportion of more mature respondents (57%) saying this markedly higher than that for the younger group (52%).
Buying Watches to Reward Oneself
The survey shows that, irrespective of gender, city of residence or household income, all respondents agree that to “reward oneself/make oneself happy” is the top reason for buying watches. A respondent in one of the focus groups said: “I’d buy a watch to reward myself so that I’ll have the impetus to keep on going.” The survey reveals that, among all cities studied, Guangzhou has the highest proportion of respondents (64%) buying watches to “reward oneself/make oneself happy”. The proportion of respondents buying watches as a kind of investment to hedge against inflation was higher than the average (6%) in Beijing (9%), Shanghai (16%) and Guangzhou (8%).
Respondents with a monthly household income of below RMB12,000 tend to buy watches for such reasons as “to keep abreast of trends” and being “influenced by friends and peers”. The higher the monthly household income, the higher also is the proportion of respondents buying watches for investment purposes.
The main reasons given overall (by both male and female respondents) for buying watches are to “reward oneself/make oneself happy” (59%) and “attend special occasions” (40%). This shows that mainland middle-class consumers’ watch consumption attitudes have already shifted from going after durability in the past to paying attention to style and design. This is also reflected in the fact that respondents said they would wear different styles of watches for different occasions.
Brand and Style are Primary Considerations in Buying Watches
The survey finds that respondents’ primary considerations in buying watches are brand (59%) and style and design (59%). In the focus group discussions, respondents indicated that they tend to buy internationally well-known brands because other people can easily recognise the grade of their watches, which gives an indication both of their personal taste and financial strength. Mainland consumers have formed certain impressions of watches made in different regions. The general consensus of respondents participating in the focus groups holds that i) Swiss made watches are known for their high quality and professional image, ii) American and other European watches come in a diversity of fashionable styles, with German watches offering outstanding craftsmanship, iii) watches made in Japan have high price-performance ratios, iv) and those made in China are inferior to imported watches when it comes to craftsmanship and style and design. In view of this, respondents tend to choose imported brands as long as they can afford them.
When respondents earning a monthly household income of less than RMB12,000 buy watches, “style and design” is their primary consideration, with “brand” coming second. But when respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB12,000 buy watches, these considerations are reversed. As for respondents earning a monthly household income of over RMB20,000, other than “brand”, they are also swayed by “special product lines from brands” more than the overall average. The importance they attach to such considerations as “craftsmanship/technology features”, “place of origin of brand” and “manufacturing location” is also higher than the overall average.
Mainland middle-class consumers wear watches mainly to show off their personal style. They are now paying more attention to style and design and are also beginning to wear differently styled watches and different types of watches for different occasions. When buying watches, mainland consumers’ primary considerations are twofold: brand, and style and design. The higher the monthly household income of consumers, the more importance they attach to such factors as “place of origin of brand” and “manufacturing location”. As mainland consumers continue to place more and more emphasis on tasteful living and personal styles, it can be expected that the demand for different types of watches will increase further.
 HKTDC Research conducted a survey of mainland watch consumers through a series of focus group discussions and an online questionnaire survey from February to May 2016 (see Appendix for details). This article discusses the findings with regard to the respondents’ consumption attitudes and considerations when buying watches.
- Watches & Clocks
- Mainland China
- Mainland China