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CES Asia 2015

Buying Chinese gadgets a patriotic move? Domestic tech consumers are divided

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2015, 12:56pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2015, 1:38pm

China, the world's second largest consumer technology market, is divided over whether domestic consumers should patriotically support homegrown brands or just buy the best products regardless of where they come from.

According to a market survey released by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), 59 per cent of Chinese respondents agreed that buying domestic tech products could support the Chinese economy, something those that consider themselves patriotic should try to do.

Meanwhile, 58 per cent said that buying international brands such as Apple or Samsung would not really hurt the Chinese economy, especially as so many foreign tech products are manufactured in the country.

Steve Koenig, senior director for market research at CEA, said that both domestic and global tech firms could learn from the survey how to win hearts and minds of Chinese tech consumers, especially with regard to smartphones, televisions and the relatively new wearable devices business.

“China is my motherland. Buying domestic tech products would help stimulate the country’s domestic demand. I will do my bit even though my effort is insignificant,” Koenig quoted Chinese woman who responded to the survey as saying.

On the other hand, another female respondent had completely the opposite view: “I couldn't care less which country the technology belongs too.” She added that she preferred international brands mostly for quality reasons.

Indeed, when it comes to the quality, many Chinese consumers said international brands do have a competitive advantage. The disadvantages of buying a domestic tech product are often obvious, with focuses on three main areas: lower quality, less innovation, and lack of differentiation, according to the CEA survey.

Price also remains a big role in purchasing decisions for Chinese consumers. About 73 per cent of respondents said domestic brands were often less expensive than international ones, a key factor when deciding to buy local rather than foreign. The so-called “patriotic purchase” also had an effect for Chinese consumers’ purchasing decision for high-tech products, the survey said.

China is expected to become the number one market for consumer technology in 2016, overtaking the United States, thanks to both strong local buying power and the rapid development of homegrown innovation, said CEA president and chief executive Gary Shapiro on Monday.

Age of Chinese consumers is another important factor in purchasing decisions. For consumers in their 30s, 66 per cent preferred international brands as they felt they served as "status symbols".

Many policy analysts have noted the recent uptrend of nationalism in mainland China. President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang's administration has been active in pushing more more control over ideology, using national propaganda sometimes to downplay the importance of foreign technology and products.

Many foreign tech services including major social media networks like Facebook and Twitter have been banned since 2009, right after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and such tight control of internet business has de-facto helped to grow many local clones. Chinese smartphone makers have found themselves ideally equipped to develop apps and integrations for domestic online services such as Weibo, the micro-blogging site owned by Sina, China's leading online portal.

CEA is the organiser of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), one of the world's most closely watched technology and innovation events, held every year in Las Vegas. The survey about Chinese consumer behaviour was released during CES Asia in Shanghai this week, the first time the event has been held outside the US.