Dyson attracts China’s middle-class spenders with sleek designs, impressive technology and online influencers
It's unusual for the maker of vacuum cleaners to have its own fandom, even in China. But Dyson is beloved in the country.
During last year's Singles' Day shopping event, Dyson's newly released Airwrap hair curler reportedly sold out within three minutes on Alibaba's Tmall and just 15 seconds on JD.com. During the same event this year, Dyson was reportedly one of 84 brands that reached 100 million yuan (US$14.25 million) in sales… within an hour.
(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, operator of Tmall.)
Dyson entered the Chinese market in 2012. Three years later, the company's sales in the country increased 244%. Dyson's cord-free vacuum cleaners have been especially popular, with sales surging 343% in 2016.
State-owned newspaper People's Daily reported that Dyson had 61% of China's vacuum cleaner market in 2018. China Market Monitor, a Beijing-based research firm focusing on home appliances, estimated Dyson had 39.9% of China's offline vacuum cleaner market and 18.8% online. Either way, Dyson is China's biggest vacuum cleaner brand, an impressive feat for a premium brand.
Dyson's vacuums don't come cheap, but they're considered best in class. The latest V11 Fluffy model sells for about US$650. Past models are cheaper, but still cost hundreds of dollars. While China is known for embracing some premium brands -- like Apple -- home appliances are rarely the subject of enthusiasm.
"(Chinese consumers) want to embrace new technologies and are fairly open to disruptive products," Dyson CEO Jim Rowan told China Daily last year.
Company founder James Dyson echoed something similar when speaking with Nikkei Asian Review, saying Dyson's growth was because "there is a great thirst for new technology and good design generally in the Far East."
Investing in technology has been key to Dyson's success, but so has pricing. While its products are expensive compared with similar ones from other brands, they're also affordable enough for many consumers in China.
"Product innovation (R&D investment) is at the root of Dyson's success, but Dyson has also done right in strategizing where to sell and how to communicate for the past couple of years in this country," said Rachel He, an analyst at market research firm Euromonitor. "It has now become an affordable luxury with easy access to purchase by adapting to market environment changes and learning to listen and talk to modern Chinese consumers."
Perhaps the true mark of success for a brand in China is when the counterfeits start showing up. In January, Chinese police shut down a company producing and selling fake Dyson hair dryers, leading to the detention of 36 people. The fakes were sold for as little as half the price of real Dyson hair dryers, and they reportedly made US$1.5 million in revenue before the police showed up.
As the fakes indicate, Dyson's hair-related products are also popular in China, and they can be as expensive as some of the company's vacuum cleaners. Last October, Dyson's newly released US$500 hair curler triggered wide discussion on Chinese social media about whether the product's quality justified the price. One of the first WeChat posts introducing the product went viral and reportedly racked up 11 million views within 24 hours.
Dyson told luxury industry news outlet Jing Daily that the company did not sponsor the WeChat post. But it did work with Chinese online influencers.
In an online marketing campaign for Airwrap, Dyson worked with seven influencers on WeChat and Weibo before reaching more than 8 million article views and more than 4 million video views, according to IAI International Advertising Awards. Dyson's Airwrap campaign was one of 20 bronze award winners this year.
Appealing to consumers by using online influencers has proven to be an effective marketing tool for Dyson, according to Euromonitor's He. "Positioning Dyson next to fashion -- this is particularly useful with the rise of content platforms like Xiaohongshu," He said.
In an annual survey that asks Chinese consumers which brands they can't live without, Dyson was ranked 28th this year, ahead of China's homegrown appliance maker Midea, the popular ecommerce site Taobao and smartphone maker Vivo.
Prophet, the branding and marketing consultancy that publishes the reports, said in this year's report that Dyson offers "sleek design" and "thrilling technology" while also using "effective implementation of targeted ecommerce strategies."
This strategy includes setting high prices to cater to China's trading-up middle class, Prophet told us, and the company rarely uses promotions out of concern that it might hurt the brand's image. Prophet said that Dyson has also sought to attract tech-savvy male consumers on consumer electronics forums and targeted female and Generation Z consumers with different packaging and limited editions.
Dyson's popularity in China shows that China's Gen Z consumers are looking for unique and stylish brands and products to express their identity, Prophet said. But China's middle class remains the bullseye for premium brands.
"The popularity of Dyson indicates that there is a fast-growing group of Chinese consumers who are willing to trade up to improve life quality and make themselves feel better, or as we call this group of people: The rising middle class," Euromonitor's He said. "Consumers, especially in high-tier cities, are pursuing aesthetics, quality living and efficiency to cope with an even busier lifestyle under pressure."
Dyson is also going after "an aspirational class that is willing to spend more," which is helping fuel growth, according to Dyson CEO Jim Rowan.
With Dyson's popularity in Asia growing, the company now plans to move its headquarters to Singapore. This will bring the company's headquarters to the region with its fastest-growing markets. Dyson already has an R&D lab in Shanghai, which opened in 2017.
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