Christmas special I: what does wall-climbing Santas 🎅 tell you about China? | Following the yuan
Understand how China consumer market works via these 3 trends that dominate Shanghai this Christmas (1/3)
Hi there. Merry Christmas, are you also embracing the final work sprint before officially lying flat in a week? If so, we are in the trenches together.
Christmas in China holds a unique charm. Despite some news of local schools banning it in recent years, there has not been any official stance against the Christian holiday. Retailers and brands refuse to give up the chance to create a festive environment, so that jovial (and tipsy) customers are more likely to open their wallets, or as we in China say, scan the WeChat/Alipay payment QR code.
This week, I want to talk about wall-climbing Santas, Christmas (pet) market and mulled wine, about how they emerge as trends in China, the factors that have enabled their rise, and how they reflect some unwritten rules in China’s consumer market.
I’m rolling these out as separate issues to keep your week extra festive (and admittedly, to lighten my own workload, as I only planned this last minute).
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1. wall-climbing Santa 🎅
Those who follow me on X/Twitter may already see my wall-climbing Santa collage, it was a result of me going through three bustling commercial streets in Former French Concession and Channing district. I’m sure there are at least dozens in Shanghai’s city center — but where did they emerge?
They first appeared around 2020, but did not go viral in 2021 until a resident of the iconic Wukang Mansion — a hot spot for visitors — decorated their window with one. [see a video on Bilibili]
Discussing a China trend is incomplete without considering product accessibility and the right environment. Why didn’t it catch on earlier?
In 2021, many shopfronts adopted the decoration, but it did not raise as much attention as this year, largely due to ongoing zero-Covid restrictions and peop'le’s limited mobility. Christmas 2022 was not the best time for such promotions because of a sudden spike in Covid cases after China dropped restrictions abruptly. However, in 2023, this trend is turbocharged by #citywalk, a post-Covid entertainment trend that encourages urban exploration on foot, making it the breakout year for this decoration.
Another often-overlooked reason is that it is a more cost-effective investment than Christmas trees. These decorations can be reused if still trendy next year, are cheaper, and the public is more excited about ‘checking in’/taking pictures with them rather than the giant Christmas trees sponsored by luxury brands and realtors. Consequently, small businesses and less affluent realtors opted for this, which cost around 200-600 yuan (US$ 37.4~83.6) for 2-4 meter decoration and around 1,700 yuan for a 10m one on Alibaba’s 1688.com and Taobao.
What does it say about China?
A typical China trend starts with subtle signs, explodes with a landmark event, and ends up with companies and creators capitalizing on the buzz.
There are similar patterns in China, regarding ‘guochao’ (“national hip/China chic”), and executives turning to livestreams to engage consumers.
I would argue that compared to the conventional innovation S-curve, the China curve is steeper, with interventions of potential government policies and domestic businesses being more sensitive to monetizing trends on the fly.
Where is it going?
Bear in mind, Shanghai often leads the way as China's 'early adopter'.
The wall-climbing Santas may be positioned in the ‘majority’ phase, which means merchants may have to find other ways to draw audiences to take pictures or take a look in stores in the near future. However, in tier-2 and tier-3 cities, after seeing Shanghai’s adoption, more shops may be likely to replicate for the next two years.
As for Shanghai, as consumers become more receptive to inflatable decorations. There may be mould-breaking creations next year, which may come from individual creators or suppliers.
See you tomorrow!🔚