China's pet economy

Four legged friends drive the purchasing of more than just pet food: A peek into China’s pet economy

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As the population ages and people settle down later, the growing demand for companionship is bringing about a surge in the pet economy in China.

According to iResearch, in 2020 China’s pet industry was worth about 300 billion RMB and it is going to witness a further 14.2% compound growth in the next three years, reaching 445 billion RMB by 2023. However, household penetration rates for pet-ownership are still very low compared to those of the US and Australia, where respectively 68% and 57% of households owns a pet. Therefore, companies operating in the industry still have great opportunities ahead.

Pet owners in China are mostly women graduates born after 1985 and with a household income in between 15,000 and 25,000 RMB. They usually live in Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities and decide to have a domestic animal in order to enrich their emotional life. Even though households with pets are usually made up by Millennial parents with children under 12, single and elderly people looking for four-legged companions are increasing. Food (40%), pet healthcare (20%) and equipment for aquariums (13%) are the main categories of goods purchased by pet owners. However, the demand for pet services is gradually soaring and diversifying. Quality, price and safety are the main elements orienting pet-related buying decisions. Moreover, consumers’ increasing demand for domestic brands has a major impact on the Chinese pet economy as well, since nowadays pet-owners tend to prefer domestic products to imported goods.

Pet-ownership household penetration rates by country pet economy in China
Data source: Suning Finance, designed by Daxue Consulting, Pet-ownership household penetration rates by country in 2019

Dogs are the most popular pets, but cats are rapidly gaining ground in recent years due to the time constraints, food expenses and space issues implied by having a dog. Cat owners are usually more keen to buy goods for their pets and opt for more refined food than dog owners.

The COVID-19 pandemic entailed a two-fold effect on the pet economy in China: on the one side, it accelerated the passage to online shopping (accounting for 20% of total purchases); while in the other side, it boosted demand of domestic animals, which is on rise even in lower tier cities.

The pet economy on Chinese social media

Cute pets are extremely popular on social media and represent a significant segment of the pet economy in China. Adorable animals are not just props on the stage but they are increasingly often the real stars, with accounts boasting hundreds of thousands of fans.

According to the report released by Topclout.com, slightly more than 83% of Chinese pet owners follow WeChat pages sharing pet-related content; 25.7% are on Weibo and 22.1% of them follow animal content on Douyin. The audience of pet Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) has increased in the latest years on all the most popular social media platforms. Usually young people born in the 90s are both the typical pet owners and the main viewers of cute animal content online.

There are several reasons behind such strong interest towards cute pets. Regarding pet owners, they mainly look for pet-related content in order to get info that could help them to better take care of their beloved four-legged friends, to get feedback about pet services and products and to exchange tips with other pet owners. Nevertheless, many people like watching pet videos online even if they don’t have any pets, as a way to feel less lonely, and entertain themselves.

Different platforms usually offer different pet content, such as vlogs, fragments of everyday life, popular science, funny clips, pet technology explanations, animals with special talents, live streaming and short miscellanea videos. For instance, Kuaishou teems with funny animal gags, everyday life scenes and explanatory videos about cutting-edge pet care products. The videos shared by @轮胎粑粑perfectly fit what cute pet lovers are looking for when watching animal-related content. Indeed, thanks to its funny and extravagant clips, the lovely golden retriever has captured the heart of more than 200 million people, becoming one of the most popular four-legged KOLs on the video platform.

the golden retriever pet KOL pet economy in China
Source: Weibo, 轮胎粑粑 the golden retriever pet KOL

Cut pet marketing in China has no boundaries

Considering their great success on social media, brands can rely on pet content creators in order to boost their marketing campaigns and reach a wider amount of potential customers. However, cute animals do not just advertise pet-related products and services, but they actually go beyond the pet economy in a narrow sense, promoting a much broader range of items: cosmetics, jewelry, drinks, and cars. Indeed, people tend to associate pets with a more refined and joyful lifestyle, projecting such features on the advertised products.

Marketing promotion strategies in animal-related content are quite diverse, going from integrating products in the content scene in a creative way to promoting offline pet events. Sometimes famous brands even establish stable collaborations with four-legged social stars. That’s the case of the Chinese makeup brand Perfect Diary, which last year chose Never, the cute dog of the famous KOL Li Jiaqi, as its official testimonial. The behind-the-scenes video of their photo shoot posted on Perfect Diary’s Weibo official account got more than 90 thousands views and hundreds of comments.

The home appliance manufacturer Midea, instead, opted for collaborating with the cat Shengsu to launch its robot vacuum cleaner M6. The cat’s profile on Weibo (@酥饼大人) boasts 5.9 million followers and its content gets hundreds of reposts. Shengsu’s audience is perfectly in line with Midea M6 target customers, who include users with a great need for cleaning, such as households owning pets.

Therefore, animal-related content is much more than sharing cute pet pictures on social networks: it actually hides a sophisticated omni-channel strategy combining online and offline marketing.

KOL Li Jiaqi with his dog Never (left), pet KOL Shengsu and the robot vacuum cleaner Midea M6 pet economy in China
Source: Weibo, KOL Li Jiaqi with his dog Never (left), pet KOL Shengsu and the robot vacuum cleaner Midea M6 (right)

Takeaways about the pet economy in China

  • The pet economy in China is booming and it is estimated to reach a market size of 445 billion RMB by 2023.
  • Pet owners in China are usually Millennial parents with children under 12, living in Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities. However, single and elderly people owning pets are expected to grow in future.
  • Quality, price, safety and the brand nationality are the key elements affecting pet-owners’ buying decisions.
  • More and more people are interested in watching pet-related pictures and videos on social media platforms. The varied offer of such kind of content succeeds in meeting the needs of both pet owners and people without pets.
  • Many brands have decided to collaborate with pet KOLs in order to reach a wide range of potential consumers. Marketing promotion in animal-related content goes beyond pet products and services, since people tend to consider cute pets the symbol of a more refined and joyful life.

Learn more about Chinese consumer behavior

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