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against involution in shopping; consumerism in China 2023

“Why are young people starting to be against involuted shopping?”: trending hashtag on Chinese social media

Due to the increasing sentiments of anti-consumerism and anti-involution among young Chinese people in recent years, e-commerce platforms and livestreamers are competing against one another more fiercely than ever to boost sales, often offering large discounts and promotions. For instance, during this year’s Double 11 shopping festival, China’s top beauty influencer Li Jiaqi found himself in controversy again following the Florasis (花西子) incident. It started from an accusation of price manipulation of by Hauswirt for violating a minimum price agreement with Li’s Tmall livestream channel. In response, alleged that Li’s agency pressured brands into offering low prices, which potentially could be considered a monopoly.

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How Young Chinese Consumers are finding themselves

Beyond lowest prices: Li Jiaqi’s live stream controversy

Li Jiaqi’s livestream is no longer the only place where consumers can find the “lowest price across all platforms (全网最低价)” deals. This became a reflection of heightened consumption fatigue accelerated by a tepid economy after a prolonged epidemic. Since its inception in 2009 by China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba, the Double 11 shopping festival and similar shopping events have become progressively commonplace often featuring convoluted rules, contributing to consumer desensitization towards discounts and promotions.

rising anti-consumerism and anti-involution sentiments among Chinese
Source: Weibo, Chinese netizens’ comments on anti-involution when spending

On Weibo, netizens are also questioning the reason behind #why are young people starting to be against involuted shopping# (年轻人为什么开始反内卷购物了), which garnered over 90 million views amid the Double 11 shopping festival. Many have expressed they are only buying out of sheer necessity mainly due to a stagnant income, whereas some others consider this shift from excessive spending to rational spending is how things are supposed to be.

Business implications of anti-involution among Chinese consumers

Rising discontent among young people against involuted shopping practices is evident in their response to convoluted rules during shopping festivals. The fatigue from these complexities signals a compelling need for businesses to rethink their strategies. Businesses may benefit from simplifying promotions, focusing on personalization, and creating a seamless shopping experience. Crafting events that align with consumer values, such as sustainability or social responsibility, could also differentiate brands in a crowded marketplace.

Besides, the shift from excessive spending to rational spending suggests a growing consumer emphasis on long-term value. Businesses that prioritize customer relationships, offer excellent post-purchase support, and demonstrate commitments to sustainability and social responsibility are increasingly attracting young shoppers. This transformative emphasis on enduring value not only aligns with changing consumer sentiments but also fosters brand loyalty, even in economically challenging times.

What we can learn about anti-involution among Chinese consumers

  • Rising anti-consumerism spurs fierce competition among Chinese e-commerce and livestream platforms. This is evident in controversies like the recent Double 11’s Li Jiaqi and Florasis incident.
  • Li Jiaqi’s livestream no longer exclusively offers the “lowest price across all platforms.” It signaled a shift in consumer behavior due to increasing consumption fatigue and desensitization to commonplace events like Double 11.
  • Weibo reflects young consumers’ discontent with involuted shopping. To adapt, businesses should simplify promotions, prioritize personalization, and align with consumer values, emphasizing sustainability amid the shift from excessive to rational spending.