Special feature – Taobao, their “favorite hobby”

Online shopping has become a national pastime among millennials in China

Macau Business | October 2022 | Special Report | Chinese millennials


“Online shopping has become something of a national pastime among millennials in China: 77% of respondents in a 2017 survey said shopping on Taobao was their favorite leisure activity.”

But as Raymond Lai, Senior Instructor, Department of Communication, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Macau, explains, “Online shopping in Chinese contexts is more than buying items online.”

In an interview with Macau Business Mr. Lai explains that “one of the phenomena that attracts people’s attention today is the live streaming of online shopping. Live broadcasts made on special or star occasions like the Double Eleven have turned top live streamers into internet personalities; real-time online selling and buying events have spiked, especially during the pandemic.

He cites the example of Viya, one of the best live streamers: she is said to have broken sales records since her first appearance in 2016, and she was selected as fortune china‘s “Most Influential Businesswoman 2020” and Forbes“Promising Businesswoman in China 2021”, according to e-commerce platforms (August 12, 2022).


more than a joke

A quip widely shared by Chinese millennials on social media reads: “The state gave our parents houses, and now we’re paying for them; he raised the retirement age when we started working; the stock market crashed when we started buying; and when we thought we might like to be adults, the state told us to have a second child. [In 2016 China introduced a two-child rule, reversing its one-child family planning policy.]


More recently, McKinsey & Company showed that live commerce primarily helps brands to accelerate conversion and improve brand appeal and differentiation. In very short-lived shows, live broadcasters perform in front of their video cameras with a live commercial broadcast that is “entertaining and immersive, allowing viewers to watch for longer”. The “apparel and fashion” category (35.6% of live streamers) led the live-streamed events, followed by the “beauty” (7.6%) and “fresh food” (7.4%) categories.

Thus, according to Raymond Lai, “today’s shopping experiences must be considered as more than a linear process of consumer decision-making, from a stage of recognition of the need, to that of evaluation of the information, to that of evaluation, to the purchase decision and to the post-evaluation of the purchase.

Mr Lai also points to digital payment options which have “made it easier for people to choose an item during live broadcasts and pay immediately, without doing a lot of legwork”.

The Lecturer in Digital Media and Society from the University of Macao concludes, “Live streaming shows on e-commerce platforms are entertaining, and the younger generation of online shoppers are watching these entertaining performances featuring featured the personalities of the sellers-live streamers, their products and their value, all in a short period of time.”

“Overall, online shopping today is more than an individual decision; shopping activity on a digital platform today could be entertaining and social” – Raymond Lai

He adds, “Online shopping is also part of people’s social activities meant to connect them with their peers. For example, when searching for an item that their friends might be interested in, it’s not uncommon for people to share information about their favorite products with their network of friends. This happens more in social commerce on platforms such as RED (or Xiaohongshu) and Pinduoduo.

No doubt the jiulinghou (born in the 90s) are the first generation in China to have grown up in consumerism. Or, in the words of the founder of the Young China Group, Zak Dychtwald, “Chinese younger generations are the first for whom consumption is natural. Born in China’s modern economic era, they know nothing else.

Just one example: 79% of spending on luxury goods and services in China is done by people under 40 (data from last year).

“In fact, for many, having the new iPhone model, or having the dress or the lipstick of an ‘influencer’ used in their YouTube channel or Tik Tok has become a need”, says Vítor Santos Teixeira. Macau Business.

But this associate professor and head of the department of psychology, Université Saint-Joseph, also draws attention to the fact that “this need to possess, to consume, is exploited to the limit by those who want to sell and now devote ‘huge resources to advertise their products and influence people, creating these needs.

And as a psychologist and psychotherapist, Mr. Teixeira warns the many parents who “do not make enough effort to value ‘traditional’ hobbies”.

As he concludes, “What I think is happening is that we adults are also becoming too relaxed and lazy, using computers and the internet as perfect nannies to take care of our children.”

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