Over the past three months, we have seen a tremendous amount of change across China in terms of business, travel, brand health, consumer response, marketing investment and media consumption as a direct consequence to the pandemic. As the country takes time off this weekend for a much-needed five-day Labour Day break, we can now start to see what ‘normal’ is now looking like.

Relatively unrestricted travel within and between most of China’s provinces is encouraging the restart of the domestic tourism, hospitality and attractions industry, and a recovering economy is giving more consumers the confidence to start spending again, albeit in moderation. The media industry has taken a hit, but many advertisers are now spending at levels that are somewhat ‘back to normal’, although a delay in reporting means we won’t know the full impact and which categories are the most changed for many more weeks.

Whilst every market around the world will have its own unique experience and recovery pattern from the COVID-19 epidemic, the ability of China to move from the lockdown of Wuhan to, for the most part, business as usual within 14 weeks may provide some reassurance for other markets.

 

 

Economy and Industry

According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, online retail sales in 2020 Q1 remained flat compared to 2019 Q1, with online retail sales of physical goods increasing by 5.9%. The State Post Bureau has also announced average daily delivery volume in April has exceeded 200 million pieces, indicating a return to pre-pandemic levels.

In 2020 Q1, government revenue collection declined by 14.3% and spending decreased by 5.7% year-on-year.

According to China’s Ministry of Transport, the aviation sector saw the number of passengers on 12th April increasing 19.8% month-on-month yet declining 68.2% compared to the same period in 2019.  By April 2020 total transportation and traffic across China has declined 57.5% YOY.

According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) in March significantly picked up to 52.0 from 35.7 in February. PMI is an index of the prevailing direction of economic trends in the manufacturing and service sectors. Above 50 is positive, below 50 is negative.

 In spite of the pandemic, the male grooming industry in China is estimated to grow by 5.22% in 2020 to RMB 16.72 billion by market research company iiMedia forecasts.

While the luxury industry in China is yet to see a recovery, some brands have seen additional woes. Hermes, for example, has been sharply criticized by the leading eCommerce influencer Austin Li (Li Jiaqi) – China’s ‘Lipstick King’ – in a livestreaming session viewed by 13 million consumers for the colors in their lipstick line as “not being suitable for Chinese women”. A brief after-session survey by Phoenix Fashion on the social network Weibo showed that 93% of the audience agreed with Li’s comments and would not consider purchasing the product, each lipstick being priced around US$60.

 

Day to Day Life

The annual meetings of China’s parliament and its advisory body, the NPC and CPPCC sessions –  known collectively as ‘Lianghui’ – are confirmed for 21st and 22nd of May in Beijing. Due to the outbreak of COVID, Lianghui were delayed and postponed by two and half months.

So far 3,770 attractions across China have resumed their operations and launched online bookings via leading OTA CTrip in order to get prepared for the Labour Day long holiday weekend from 31st April.

Hangzhou has become the leading city in the hotel industry’s recovery, with accommodation prices rising 105% for the Labour Day holiday period, while hotels in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have kept the prices flat.

 

Brands

Tesla sold 11,280 units in March, more than double than the nearest competitors BYD Qin Pro EV (5,271 units) and BAIC EU-Series (4,450 units).

AirBnB domestic bookings for China for the first half of April 2020 were 200% higher compared to the same period in March.

China’s largest online travel agency CTrip announced it expects more than 80 million domestic tourists over the Labour Day holiday.

According to Yum China, the company’s 2020 Q1 revenue was USD 1.75 billion, a 24% decline year-on-year, and the adjusted net profit reached to USD 63 million, a 68% decline year-on-year. Among them, KFC’s revenues was USD 1.27 billion (-20% YOY), and Pizza Hut’s USD 324 million (-40% YOY).

Suning, a leading Chinese retailer primarily focused on consumer electronics, has announced it expects a loss of USD 85 million in 2020 Q1.

 

Media

According to analyst company Quest Mobile, digital media spending in 2020 Q1 dropped 19.9% YOY, in spite of the time spent growing 26.8%, which led to some platforms like WeChat reducing the price of their media inventory. Cost per click (CPC) for Follower Acquisition Banners (FAB) in WeChat articles has fallen from RMB 1.53 before the pandemic to RMB 1.30 in the pandemic recovery period, in WeChat Mini Programs from RMB 0.82 to RMB 0.48, while the CPC for WeChat article HTML5 campaigns has fallen from RMB 1.47 to RMB 0.58.

China’s short video platform Kuaishou has officially launched a youth culture community app called ‘Before Community’. This is an interactive dating community specifically created for young people interested in art. This is also the third community product launched by Kuaishou after Doutian Community and Bengdi.

 

In other news

The People’s Bank of China has announced it will start its pilot digital currency project in April – the first country in the world to confirm a national Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). 

According to CNNIC, by the end of 2020 Q1, the number of Internet users in China reached 904 million, representing a growth of 4.9% from 2018. Among them there were 897 million mobile Internet users (99.3% of all users), representing a growth of 0.7%.

China’s technology companies Tencent, Huawei and Baidu will comprise a new committee tasked with setting up national standards for blockchain and distributed ledger technology.

China’s social eCommerce platform Pinduoduo announced they would be selling 55 SAIC cars at 45% discount on 4 May at 8pm. The offer includes 15 Cadillacs, 30 VW Teramonts and 10 VW Tiguans.

Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) has announced its ambition and development direction on internet radio by launching Kuwochangting, a radio app that will be offering a long format audio service.

 

For earlier weekly reports delivered throughout this crisis, click here

Sources: Quest Mobile, Walk the Chat, EV-Volumes, Airbnb, China’s National Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Transportation, CTrip, People’s Bank of China, Tencent, Huawei, Baidu, Suning, China State Post Bureau, Weibo, Pinduoduo, Kuaishou


Thanks to our PHD China Insights team for their contributions.

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We are providing a weekly update on the impact and implications for this current health crisis.

If you have questions or suggestions, please feel free to email us at:

Mark Bowling – CSO PHD China mark.bowling@phdmedia.com or Vladimir Prostran – Group Director Strategic Insights PHD China vladimir.prostran@phdmedia.com