Understanding Chinese car Consumer Behaviour Online

A 3-party joint research report by AdChina, MEC and INS decodes the online browsing behaviour of different car consumer segments

Oct 26, 2011, 09:00 ET from AdChina.com

SHANGHAI, Oct. 26, 2011 /PRNewswire-Asia/ -- AdChina, MEC and INS today announced a new research report that aims to understand car consumption in China and the actual online browsing behaviour of Chinese consumers, by five target segments.

With the economic take-off of the past 20 plus years, the desire to buy a car is deeply etched into the hearts of Chinese moving up the income ladder.  Since 2001, with the encouragement of government policies, individual consumption has been going up and the automotive market has been on a continuous rise.  China is the only market in the world which has maintained a 20 plus percent increase over the past 5 years.  It overtook the US to become the biggest car market in 2009.  In April this year, China saw negative increase in sales for the first time in 27 months, indicating a slowdown in the marketplace.  This is due to a combination of the end of government sales preferential policies, increase in oil prices and the fact that some cities are taking measures to combat traffic jams.  Despite this setback in sales, the profit rate for 2011 is still forecast to be higher than in 2010.    

Cain Wang, VP of AdChina said: "Since the internet has become a powerful medium for consumers to decide which brands they like or dislike, it has become an integral part of the car purchase decision process.  The role of the car marketer and dealer as the initial point of reference for information is on the decrease.  More often these days, consumers decide which car to buy before reaching the dealer's showroom."

Traditionally, purchasing a car is a complicated and involving process: numerous visits to dealer showrooms, comparison of features through brochures, soliciting opinions from experts, word-of-mouth (WOM) from friends and family, and finally experiencing the car through test drives.  Nowadays, consumers can do most of these steps online.

With the vast amount of information available on various online platforms - which makes comparison of price, product and features across brands and models quick and efficient - consumers can reject car brands and models even before they walk into a car dealership.  In the future, the latter may be reduced to a test drive centre, point of purchase and maintenance support only.

Jeffrey Sun, Director of INS, said: "Given the important role of the internet in car purchase, it is vital to understand consumers' actual behaviour online.  This research is a breakthrough in that it combines actual online browsing behaviour with survey data.  We invited netizens who had browsed automotive-related websites in the past 3 months to fill in an online survey questionnaire.  With their response, we linked their actual online browsing behaviour with their demographic and psychographic data."

The research findings show 5 segments of consumers, with different attitude, lifestyle, car preference and online browsing behaviour.  The five segments are:

#1 Fashion Chaser (10%)

"I like to be fashionable.  Take mobile phones for example, I am a real fan of iPhone.  iPhone4, iTOUCH … I have them all, and the iPhone4s has just come out recently and I have been keeping my eyes on it..."

"My car reflects my personality.  It should be eye-catching when it is on the road.  I want people to look at my car."

Fashion Chasers love to try new things and have a keen interest in fashion and technology trends.  They are early adopters and they live at the forefront of our times.  To a bigger or lesser extent, they are narcissistic.  They want to be the focus of attention.  Therefore, they like personalization in both products and services.  They want to change the colour, interior decoration and even the logo of their cars according to their own needs and preferences.  When they purchase a car, they pay special attention to the exterior design and technological innovation.  They pay less attention to gasoline consumption and maneuverability.  The key channels from which they obtain information are TV, OOH and mobile phones.

According to our research, 80% of Fashion Chasers will be first time buyers and 52% out of those plan to do so within the next two years.  Honda, Toyota and Ford are brands they are most likely to consider.

#2 Hedonistic Life Lover (20%)

"Enjoy life.  Relax... because if (you) do not relax, it is not called enjoying life.  It is more like paying penance.  A person should live in the moment and should not worry over lots of unimportant stuff."

"I care more about the comfortable driving experience.  Nothing can be more important than the comfort inside a car."

Hedonistic Life Lovers have modern values.  They care about enjoyment and being happy.  For them, life should be full of fun and happiness and a person should make the most of his best moments and enjoy life.  They like western things.  When they buy cars, they are willing to borrow money from banks.  When they choose cars, they have high requirements on horsepower, functions, maneuverability, interior space and decoration.  Conversely, they do not care as much about the brand.  When they look for information to guide them in their purchase, they go to car exhibitions, test drive and listen to radio more than other segments.  Relative to other consumer segments, Hedonistic Life Lovers are more likely to consider buying Buick, Ford, Mazda and Great Wall Motors.

#3 Status Seeker (20%)

"Man doesn't just live for himself. My son's teacher regards me with special respect when I drive a Mercedes Benz."

"For me, an automobile is not just a means of transportation.  It is an expression of my social status."

Status Seekers care a great deal about how other people look at them and want to win respect from others through their wealthy lives and successful careers.  To them, chasing a higher social status is a means to success.  When they buy cars, they like to buy new models, so that they can show off in front of others.  Out of the five consumer segments, Status Seekers like SUVs the most.  Brand, craftsmanship and interior decoration are important considerations for them.  They care less about gasoline consumption and horsepower.  In terms of touch-points, they can be reached via magazines, OOH and WOM.

Our survey also found that Status Seekers have the highest income level amongst the five segments.  Current owners are more likely to own Mercedes-Benz and Audi.  49% of Status Seekers intend to buy a car within the next 12 months.  Audi and BMW are brands that they will consider in their next purchase.

#4 Progressive Achiever (24%)

"Work makes me stronger.  I do not want to wind down.  I want to keep myself in a constant state of pressure..."

"I believe that when a person arrives at a certain stage, he has to buy a car.  This is a sign of career success."

Progressive Achievers believe that a person's values come out best through work.  They are positive and forward-looking.  They set their minds to move up in their career.  To them, life is a constant progress to bigger achievements.  Therefore, they are willing to work overtime to earn more money.  They are willing to work hard to improve the quality of their life.  In this segment, 81% are men.  When they buy cars, they pay more attention to comfort and brand.  Their requirements on exterior design are relatively less.  The Internet and WOM from relatives and friends are channels where they get most of their information on cars.

According to our survey, 27% of current car owners have a Volkswagen.  For those who intend to buy in the near future, Volkswagen and Chevrolet are brands that Progressive Achievers favour.

#5 Family-oriented Traditionalists (26%)

"I believe everyone should play their role within the family responsibly.  This could mean sacrificing personal space and time, but this sacrifice is both necessary and worthwhile."

"I care lots about the safety of cars, such as the number of airbags and whether there is GPS built in.  Safety is important for my family and me."

Family-oriented Traditionalists are driven by traditional Chinese values.  What they care most about is the harmony of the family.  In terms of car purchase, they put emphasis on fuel consumption and low carbon emission.  In addition, safety, price-value ratio and second hand resale value are all important considerations.  Exterior design and technology, on the other hand, are relatively less important.  Compared to other segments, Family-oriented Traditionalists tend to turn to newspapers for car purchase information more.

Our survey found that Family-oriented Traditionalists are older and more skewed towards female.  19% of this segment wants to buy a new car within the next 6 months and many of them prefer Volkswagen.  Currents owners tend to drive Toyota, Buick and Chevrolet more than other segments.

Media usage & online browsing behavior

These 5 segments of consumers also display different media usage in terms of where they get information on cars.  Since this is an online survey of people who have browsed information on cars within the past 3 months, it is inevitable that their internet usage for information on cars is high at an average of 69%.  TV (42%) and auto show / test drive (35%) are distant runner-ups as sources of information on automobiles.  Fashion Chasers are more likely to use mobile internet to browse car information.  Hedonists are significantly less likely to go to direct media for information on cars.  Status Seekers are significantly higher than average in their usage of WOM and magazine.  Conversely, both Progressive Achievers and Family-oriented Traditionalists are less likely to look for car information from magazines.

Fashion Chasers are significantly more likely to browse content on social websites and less likely to browse content on finance.  Hedonistic Life Lovers are, in general, below average in terms of what content they browse.  Progressive Achievers are more preferential towards online video websites.  Family-oriented Traditionalists, on the other hand, browse more finance content than other segments.    

The key times these consumer segments browse information on cars are also different from each other.  Status Seekers, in general, have more browsing activities on automobile-related content than other segments.  Their usage peaks at 10:00 – 10:59am, 16:00 – 16:59pm and 21:00 – 21:59pm.  Another segment that tends to browse automobile-related content late at night is the Progressive Achievers, peaking at 20:00 – 20:59pm and 22:00 – 22:59pm.  

The China automobile market is extremely competitive.  With the battleground shifting from offline towards online, it is crucial that marketers understand their consumers' online media behaviour in order to better communicate with them in cyberspace.  This research provides much needed data on actual browsing behaviour to inform marketers on where to connect and engage with car consumers of China.  Marketers can then better analyse their current online initiatives and re-think how they can reach consumers where they surf and browse on the internet.

There is an opportunity for marketers to tap the potential of these 5 segments of consumers by making their car search process easier.  Providing information to consumers at their convenience and engaging them with a quality, unforgettable brand experience online can help generate interest and shift preference towards a brand.

Theresa Loo, National Director of Strategic Planning, Analytics and Insight, MEC China said, "The digital revolution will continue to revolutionise how consumers engage with media and brands.  An understanding of actual browsing behaviour gives marketers an edge in terms of how they can better plan their communications.  The successful car marketers of the future will be the ones who help consumers decide which car to purchase way before consumers enter the dealer's showroom."

About the Study - Methodology

The primary purpose of our study was to understand and analyse the online browsing behavior of automotive consumers.  In terms of recruitment, respondents' demographics had quotas, which were designed to match real world car buyers.  An additional technical requirement was that potential respondents were those with 3-months worth of data in their cookies and they were served an invitation by AdChina to participate in an online survey.  We ended up recruiting 1,500 respondents.

For more information, please contact:

Candy Wang
T: 021 6267 5588
E: candy.wang@adchina.com

Jeffrey Sun
T: 021 6113 1936
E: dejun.sun@ins-consulting.com

Xiangxiang Wang
GroupM China
T: 021 2307 7892
E: xiangxiang.wang@groupm.com

About AdChina

AdChina is the leading audience-centric integrated internet ad platform in China. With extensive partnerships with leading portal, vertical, video, social networking and ecommerce websites, AdChina's ad network reaches over 432 million unique visitors (UV) per month. It provides integrated brand building, iWOM marketing and sales activation solutions via display ad network, mobile ad network, video ad network, social media network. Moreover, AdChina helps brands build their own audience databases and accumulate customer insights, which enables more targeted and effective communication with their customers.

AdChina was founded in April 2007 in Silicon Valley, USA, with headquarters in Shanghai and Beijing, and offices in Guangzhou and Xiamen.

About INS

INS is a leading marketing research company specializing in the auto industry in China.  Approaching over 100,000 car owners annually over the past 3 years, the research network coverage of INS expanded to 150 cities in China.

INS provides full services in five business practice areas: market entry, innovation, branding and communication, customer relationship and dealer management.  INS is the core research vendor for many auto brands and manufacturers including VW, GM, Ford, Audi, BMW, Renault and PSA, etc.

About MEC

MEC delivers value by creating, implementing and measuring communication solutions that actively engage people with brands.

Media planning and buying ~ Digital media ~ Search ~  Performance marketing ~ Mobile ~ Social media ~ Analytics and Insight ~ Sport, Entertainment & Cause ~ Multi-cultural ~ Content ~ Retail ~ Integrated planning  Our 4,000 highly talented and motivated people work with domestic and international clients in 84 countries. We are a founding partner of GroupM. To find out more, visit us at www.mecglobal.com.

SOURCE AdChina.com