Sexy Tea modern China tea shop

The success of Sexy Tea 茶颜悦色 and queuing culture in China

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Since 2018, China’s new-style tea market has ushered in explosive growth, with an annual growth rate of about 74%. According to the data of the new tea report released by CBNDATA, as of 2019, China’s new-style tea market has reached nearly 100 billion Yuan. It seems every month we hear about a new viral tea brand in China, following the rise of Hey Tea, Nayuki, LeleCha, now Sexy Tea (茶颜悦色), also known as “Modern China Tea Shop” is the newest tea-craze, seeming to come out of nowhere yet producing half-day long lines as well as controversy.

Behind the success of Sexy Tea in China

Sexy Tea or 茶颜悦色 is a milk tea brand based in Changsha, Hunan Province, founded in 2013. The company has more than 100 stores in Changsha and in other cities such as Wuhan and Shenzhen. On April 2nd 2021 Sexy Tea went viral on social media when, according to the Hot Topics of Weibo, 30,000 people were supposedly queuing for the tea shop. The brand once raises the concept of “queuing culture”.

Why China’s queuing culture attracts customers

Queuing convinces onlookers of the store’s popularity. When there are long lines, people are more curious and attracted to the product being sold. Ultimately, queuing is proof of a product popularity and success.

China’s queuing culture not only triggers curiosity  off-line but also on-line. As long waiting lines stimulates the curiosity of users, they talk about it on social media, effectively multiplying the visibility of the store. An expectation then rises about the product itself which makes the product even more desirable.

Queuing culture in China a line at sexy tea

Source: Bai Jia Hao, Queuing culture in China

To better feed into the long-line phenomena, many Chinese brands have launched a “one person purchase restriction” (一人限购), making sure that everyone who makes a purchase waits in line. In a way, China’s queuing culture has the characteristics of a marketing operation.

Generation Z consumers are the primary customers of milk tea, as they have better living conditions than their parents and want to pursue a quality life.

As Chinese gen Z pay more attention to their experience and sharing, and have a strong demand for social networking. Queuing is be a part of that experience of sharing the same purpose and a sense of belonging to a group.

New retail in China (新零售)

New Retail is a business model that converges digital and off-line experiences. The milk Tea brand is an example of this business model as Sexy Tea customers can order on-line and retrieve their order in the store.

To take their new retail strategy a step further, there is also a “membership card” where customers can top up money and use it in the store. With the card, t customer can get credit every time they buy drinks, if they have enough credit, they can be rewarded with a small gift.

How Sexy Tea rides the Guochao (国潮) trend

The Guochao (国潮) trend has had an impact on consumption trends in China and the bubble tea market is no exception. The Sexy Tea brand uses traditional Chinese style packaging, with traditional characters and designs. They claim to be the first “Chinese style” milk tea brand in Mainland China, using Chinese products such as Oolong tea, orchid flowers etc.

Sexy Tea traditional Chinese style packaging fits the Guochao trend that is popular among Chinese gen Z

Source: Zhihu, Sexy Tea traditional Chinese style packaging fits the Guochao trend that is popular among Chinese gen Z

Sexy Tea’s controversies

Recently, Sexy Tea released a mug with the following words:  jian lou zi (捡篓子) which in the local slang means “get a bargain” or picking up a good deal. But in a campaign, they used the term to describe picking up while in line. They continued on saying “When I went to buy bubble tea, there were lots of pretty girls there. If you meet one like this, you can tell your friend – I picked up a bargain”. Meaning that when going to Sexy Tea, you could also pick up a women at the same time.

The expression sparked anger on the internet as it objectifies women. According to the BBC, the company released a statement saying “We made a very inappropriate sentence that even people in Changsha did not approve of…. we are very ashamed. We have absolutely no intention of disrespecting women”. Netizens are also pointing out that sexualizing women is a fundamental issue in the advertisement industry.

What we can learn from the success of Sexy Tea in China

  • Sexy Tea fully used China’s queuing culture to boost their sales. By creating a buzz on social media, netizens are curious about the brand and want to taste their products.
  • The success of Sexy Tea is also based on their use of the New retail (新零售), through membership cards bought and charged on the website and retrieving the product in the store.
  • Through Sexy Tea’s controversy, it’s also evident that Chinese consumers are perceptive to objectifying women, and such acts will not fly in future advertisements.

Author: Oriane Corral


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