Sales of top-end face masks and air purifiers soar as smog continues to cloak northern China

Tmall sales more than triple during November as tens of millions of residents, particularly in Beijing, ready themselves to battle against the toxic air

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 10:49pm

Chinese consumers are snapping up record numbers of imported face masks and air purifiers online as they struggle to combat the north of the country’s lingering and smothering smog.

Sales of air purifiers and face masks on Alibaba’s Tmall cross-border market place more than tripled during November last year as tens of millions of residents across the country – particularly in Beijing – readied themselves to battle against toxic air, a time now annually dubbed the “smog season.”

The 3M masks are way-more expensive, but they are worth the money because my health comes first
Gu Xin, a Hongkonger who relocated to Beijing in December

Last month, the Chinese capital was blanketed in a grey haze that saw schools shut and vehicle use limited as its first “red-alert” was issued – an air reading deemed “hazardous” by United States standards.

Concentrations of airborne pollutants in one northern Chinese city exceeded a World Health Organisation guideline by 100 times at one stage.

“Our data shows the majority of buyers come from Beijing, Shanghai and other mega cities, where air

pollution is bound to be more intense ,”the Tmall report said.

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

It has become a common sight in Beijing during winter for residents to don masks while walking on the street. Many even insist on wearing them indoors.

At times when a red alert is in effect, more people prefer to stay indoors and breathe easier with the help of an air purifier, which they usually stock up on before the pollution descends.

With the air quality still deteriorating, Chinese households have been shelling out on more-sophisticated appliances from the US and Europe to filter out particulate air matter from their homes and offices, said Tmall.

Gu Xin, a producer who relocated to Beijing’s Chaoyang district from Hong Kong in December, recently ordered two packs of disposable masks made by 3M, a US manufacturer renowned for Ace bandages and Post-it Notes.

“I don’t have faith in the quality of Chinese branded cotton masks which don’t fit against my face and always suffocate me,” Gu said.

“The 3M masks are way-more expensive, but they are worth the money because my health comes first.”

The Minnesota-based company said it has sold over 8,500 packs of signature “KN95” respirators on Tmall in the past month, regardless of it being almost 10 times more expensive than a regular mask sold at local Chinese convenient stores.

The choking smog descending on northern China has also created a thriving air purifier market, encouraging European white goods makers such as Dyson to step up their sales and marketing efforts in the country.

Sales of Dyson air purifiers, fans and vacuum cleaners in China more than tripled in 2015, according to the British engineering giant. Underpinned by a lucrative China market, total revenue of environmental control products skyrocketed 35 per cent for 2015, the company said.

The global indoor air purification market is poised to almost double within ten years to US$21.82 billion by 2024, according to a report by Grand View Research Inc, with China singled out as a pre-eminent driver behind the growth.

Gu said when the smog drags visibility down to 300 metres, and forces him to stay at home, one option to kill time is to browse for anti-pollution gadgets online.

“Obviously a mask is not enough, you have to get an air purifier and other devices to clean up the air indoors.”