China’s Watch Shoppers: Shopping Channels and Market Awareness
27 September 2016
According to the latest HKTDC survey , traditional “shopping centres/malls/name-brand stores in department stores” are the most common channels through which mainland middle-class consumers obtain information on watches and also the channels which are most likely to influence their watch-buying decisions. However, some respondents indicated they would shop online if saw a watch they liked on the web. E-commerce platforms as new channels for the sale of watches should have ample room for growth, the survey finds. This article looks at the channels through which mainland consumers obtain information on watches and buy their watches, including their attitudes towards buying watches online.
The Most Common Channels for Obtaining Information on Watches
Respondents in all cities indicated that traditional “shopping centres/malls/name-brand stores in department stores” are their most common channels for obtaining information on watches. This is probably because these outlets – which offer watches of different brands under one roof and have professional salespersons to tell shoppers about those brands – facilitate consumers in understanding and making comparisons between different brands and products. In the survey, 49% of respondents said they obtained information on watches from online “shopping platforms/forums”. This is probably due to the rise of e-commerce platforms for the sale of watches on the mainland in recent years. The popularity of online forums and social media also allows consumers to exchange ideas and obtain the latest information about watches anytime, anywhere.
There is no apparent correlation between monthly household income and the channels through which consumers obtain information on watches. More noteworthy is that the proportion of respondents with a monthly household income of more than RMB40,000 obtaining such information through “outdoor/escalator/subway ads” (22%) was much higher than the overall (16%). In order to establish the image of Hong Kong watch brands in the mainland market, one Hong Kong watch group engaged a famous Hong Kong actress as brand ambassador and achieved good publicity through outdoor billboards and subway advertising.
Information Channels that Influence Consumers Most
“What is the information channel that affected you most in your decision to buy watches?” was one of the questions asked during the survey. The respondents could only name one channel in their answer. Among all respondents, 36% chose “shopping centres/malls/name-brand stores in department stores” as the channel that influenced them most, followed by “online shopping platforms/forums” (18%) and “recommendations from friends and family” (13%). It is noteworthy that other than the above three channels, all the others only had an influence of less than 10%. For example, 34% of all respondents said they obtained information about watches through “WeChat/Moments/public accounts”, but only 4% said these had the biggest influence on their purchasing decisions. When choosing publicity channels, companies should bear these findings in mind in order to reach consumers.
Shopping Channels of Consumers’ Last Purchases
In all cities surveyed, the highest proportion of respondents (24%) said the last time they bought a watch was in a “shopping centre/independent watch shop (single brand) in a mall”, followed by “shopping centre/watch shop chain (multiple brands) in a mall” (18%) and “watch counter in a department store” (14%).
China has witnessed rapid growth in outbound tourism in recent years. About 57.39 million Chinese tourists travelled abroad in 2010. The number increased to 120 million  in 2015. This increased their chances of shopping overseas. In this survey, some respondents said they bought watches in “airport duty-free shops” (6%) and “physical stores overseas” (5%). A high percentage of these respondents were from Shanghai and Dalian.
Even though some mainland consumers may not be able to buy from physical stores, they may still be able to buy watches through “online shopping” (10%), “haitao shopping/purchasing agents” (4%), “WeChat shopping” (1%) and “TV shopping” (1%). According to the operator of a mainland e-commerce platform for watches, traditional physical stores still dominate the sales channels for imported watches in China, whereas online sales have a market share of 6-7%. E-commerce platforms as a new channel for the sale of watches should have ample room for development.
Irrespective of household income, a “shopping centre/independent watch shop in a mall” is the main channel for buying watches. It is noteworthy that among those respondents with a monthly household income of more than RMB40,000, 13% indicated that the last time they bought a watch was in a “watch and jewellery shop”, a percentage significantly higher than the total number of respondents choosing this answer (8%). Meanwhile, 11% said they last bought a watch at a “physical store overseas”. This percentage is also much higher than the total number of respondents choosing this answer (5%).
A further analysis of the monthly household income of respondents by gender shows a higher percentage of male respondents with a monthly household income of RMB20,000-40,000 buying watches through “haitao shopping/ purchasing agent” (8%) than male respondents as a whole (4%). The survey also shows a higher percentage of female respondents with a monthly household income of RMB20,000-40,000 buying watches through “shopping centre/independent watch shops (single brand) in a mall” (32%) than female respondents as a whole (25%).
Reasons for Choosing to Buy Watches from Physical Stores
According to the survey, among those respondents who bought their watches from physical stores last time, 65% said their main reason for doing so was that they felt these were “trustworthy” and guaranteed “authentic products.” Other reasons cited included the fact that customers “can try the watches on to see if they like them” (64%) and “guaranteed after-sales service” (56%). Respondents who attended the focus group discussions said that since they did not buy watches frequently and there was no real urgency to do so, they could afford to spend time visiting physical stores and try watches on to see which ones they liked. Despite the convenience of online shopping, some of the respondents who attended the focus group discussions said they could get a better idea of the style and image of various brands in physical stores, especially some of the newer brands.
Attitudes Towards Online Shopping
Among those respondents who bought watches from physical stores last time, 79% said they might shop online if they saw a watch they liked on the web. Respondents in Beijing and Hangzhou were more ready than others to shop online and more willing than the average to pay a higher price. The average maximum price that respondents in Shanghai were willing to pay to buy watches online, meanwhile, exceeded RMB10,000.
The survey finds a higher degree of willingness to buy watches online and a higher average maximum price for such purchases among respondents with a monthly household income of more than RMB20,000.
Reasons for Choosing to Buy from Non-Physical Channels
In the survey, 16% of respondents said they chose non-physical channels last time they bought their watch. These channels included “online shopping” (10%), “haitao shopping/ a purchasing agent” (4%), “WeChat shopping” (1%) and “TV shopping” (1%). Their main reasons were that “online shopping offers more brands/styles” (50%), “online shopping offers cheaper prices” (48%) and “online shopping is convenient/offers delivery service” (44%). “I saw on Korean TV drama a Swedish watch with replaceable straps, which was also much publicised as a must-buy item in fashion blogs. I had to buy from an online shopping site because it was not sold in our stores”, said a respondent who attended one of the focus group discussions.
Traditional “shopping centres/malls/name-brand stores in department stores” are the most common channels through which mainland consumers obtain information on watches and the channels which most influence consumers in their watch-buying decision-making. Since there is no urgency in buying watches in general, some mainland consumers may take advantage of their overseas trips to buy watches from physical stores or airport duty-free shops. In addition to physical stores, consumers may also buy watches online. Compared with similar surveys of mainland consumers in the past, this survey shows a substantially higher percentage of people willing to give online shopping a try and a higher average maximum price they are willing to pay. A number of e-commerce platforms have been set up for the sale of watches on the mainland in recent years. It is believed that new channels are likely to proliferate in the months and years to come.
 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).
 National Tourism Administration of China
- Watches & Clocks
- Mainland China
- Mainland China