Men unleash ‘dopamine economy’

The younger generation among male consumers, according to retail experts, loves to give treats to themselves, in terms of games, looks and experiences.


Shoppers seen at a department store in Beijing on Saturday, the day of the Double 11 shopping festival. PHOTO: CHINA DAILY

November 15, 2023

BEIJING – If there is such a thing as belt-loosening, male consumers in China are embracing it, spending happily, without any guilt or restraint, on what drives them — and last week’s Singles Day shopping festival, or 11-11, has provided them just such an occasion, the latest market data showed.

Gaming, cycling and trendy toys are in. So are clothing, alcohol, skin care, fishing gear, tea sets, running and boxing products, according to Tmall, Alibaba’s online marketplace for established brands. Some call this the “he-economy”. Marketers call this the “dopamine economy”.

A neurotransmitter in the brain, dopamine acts as a “reward center”, including motivation, mood, attention, memory, movement and more. Male consumers, encouraged by marketing blitzes, are beginning to see virtue in rewarding themselves once in a while, retail experts said, after digesting Tmall data gathered between Oct 31 and Nov 5.

The younger generation among male consumers, they said, loves to give treats to themselves, in terms of games, looks and experiences, with last year’s favorites, such as Moutai liquor, fishing gear and Arc’teryx’s rain jackets, taking a backseat this year.

During the survey period, transaction volumes of flagship e-stores of gaming hardware brands, such as Aula, VGN and Republic of Gamers on Tmall, increased by over 100 percent year-on-year. Computers, do-it-yourself or DIY assembled computers, keyboards, monitors and headphones ranked among the leading gaming products sold on Tmall.

In its first hour of sale, the transaction volume of TGIF, the official supplier of gaming chairs for the recent Hangzhou Asian Games, increased by a staggering 3,590 percent year-on-year, Tmall data showed.

Male consumers were also found to be more interested in physical toys such as Lego bricks. During the period, the growth rate of men’s purchases of trendy toys was higher than women’s. For 11-11, Lego released a new collection Super Mario Piranha Plant. In the past week, nearly 1 million people searched for Lego on Tmall.

Sales on cycling-related products surged as trends like “City Walk” and “City Ride” are sweeping Chinese cities this year. Bicycle sales doubled year-on-year during the survey period.

Among bicycle buyers, the number of male users has increased by nearly 100 percent year-on-year. On the first day of the shopping festival, sales of rain jackets increased by 90 percent year-on-year.

Jason Yu, an executive at a consultancy firm in Shanghai, is an avid fan of cycling. He bought a bike, athletic apparel and electronic devices for riding trips.

“Male consumption has often centered on their interests or hobbies. Middle-income male consumers in their 30s and 40s will unleash their spending power driven by their passions,” said Yu.

Men are more willing to spend on good looks. Facial cleansers, perfumes and face creams are the three most popular categories among male consumers. The average daily search volume for such products in the past week increased by 128 percent, 87 percent and 38 percent, respectively, Tmall data showed.

For example, male consumers prefer products with quickly-applied face foundation and concealer with brightening effects. Men’s eyebrow trimmers, face beauty devices and facial cleansing machines have also attracted consumer attention this year.

Trendy fashion brands also attracted male consumers on Tmall. During the shopping festival, sales of men’s clothing brand Undefeated in the first 18 minutes surpassed that of its first day of the carnival last year.

Similarly, sales of Acne Studios in the first hour exceeded that of its first day of the extravaganza last year. Nautica Whitesail’s parachute pants and Stussy’s winter cotton jackets have seen their sales double on Tmall during the period.

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