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5 Things Shanghai Disneyland can Teach you About Chinese Consumer Trends

330 million is the number of people in China within a 3-hour train ride from the new Shanghai Disneyland Resort opened in June of 2016.

What can Shanghai Disney, teach us about these 330 million Chinese consumers?

After a great deal of brainstorming and deliberating, we have condensed our thought and experiences into 5 key learnings that you can learn about Chinese consumer trends from a trip to SH Disney.

We hope by the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of the largest consumer group on the planet, the Chinese middle-class.

1) Gamification

Chinese consumers love to play video games, and they have a 75% smartphone penetration rate. This love of games and high accustomization to smartphones has not been overlooked by the Disney park designers on the popular ride Soaring Over the Horizon. The ride itself is quite cool, and while riding, you go on an AR "flight" around the world to see the world's most breathtaking sights.

However, the most interesting part to understanding Chinese consumers isn't the ride itself. It's waiting in line...
While waiting in line, there are multiple QR codes sponsored by Disney painted over the walls. Upon scanning the code (which Chinese consumers are VERY accustomed too), they are directed to a webpage, where they can sign up and with their basic info, and take part in an interactive quiz game. Each person is placed into 1 of 4 teams and has to answer questions, as the results are beamed live onto the wall. Not only does this give the company immediate access to basic consumer info, but it allows them to improve brand identity, and create a positive consumer experience, while doing a very monotonous thing (waiting in line sucks - and in China, they can be VERY long). Gamification is a strategy many Chinese firms use, and something Western firms to pick up on too.
  • Key Takeaway for Business - Don't forget Chinese consumers love and have a propensity for games. Gamification is a great way to get information on your target market and create brand awareness in a fun/interactive way.
2) Disney Princess Rule

One of the first things you will notice at SH Disney is a large amount of cute little girls walking around in Disney Princess costumes. One of the second things you'll notice is the young adult women doing the same. We believe this observation can lead to 2 key takeaways.

  1. 15-24 year old Chinese are spending like Westerners - In the past Chinese consumers didn't have discretionary income available to spend on Disney Princess costumes. Now, almost every other little girl/young lady at the park had something that was Disney branded (not cheap BTW).
  2. There are numerous Western brands/characters that have been a HIT in China - China only lets in 34 foreign films per year, and even with this, Disney characters like Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, and Mickey & Pooh Bear have done extraordinarily well in this market. This plays into the fact that Chinese women tend to like "cute" things. If you walk almost any Chinese street, you are bound to see women in Disney-branded clothes.
  • Key Takeaway for Business - Chinese consumers, particularly young women have new found spending power, and are willing to spend it on Western brands/characters they find "cool". Keep this in mind when marketing to young women, and don't overly sexualize like we tend to do in the West.
3) Localization is Key

Far too often, Western brands fail in China due to not understanding Chinese consumer preferences. This crosses all industries, as Chinese consumers have very different preferences in regards to style, flavor, etc.

Take Brooks Brothers for example, with it's preppy ad campaigns filled with white people vacationing at their summer home on the beach. This couldn't be further away from the average Chineses' reality!

This goes to show the importance of localization in China, and Disney got it right. For example on the "Seven Dwarfs Mine Train", the song "Heigh-Ho" is sung in Mandarin. Same can be said for the interactive "Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure" ride, where Jack Sparrow speaks in Mandarin (weird experience for an American to say the least). In many of the restaurants and dining halls, local Chinese food is served. Disney was aware of the unique preferences of the Chinese consumer and provided offerings to suit these preferences.

  • Key Takeaway for Business - Chinese consumers have unique preferences and tastes. Make sure to vary your product offering accordingly.
4) The Granny Rule

One of the most commonly known ideas about China is the One-Child Policy. This has led to generations of Chinese growing up with 6 sets of eyes on them. Mom, dad, and 2 sets of grandparents. Familial unity is strong in China, and grandparents often even live with their children & grandchild for part of the year, if not all the time.

This is clearly on display at SH Disney, where more often than not you’ll see both parents, along with at least one set of grandparents leading a child along to rides.

Amusement parks with big rides and lots of walking are not the best friend of the elderly, by any means. Disney was aware of this (what we like to call the "Granny Rule") and designed a park with lots of resting areas, and other less intense activities such as "Shipwreck Shore" and the "Enchanted Storybook Castle".

  • Key Takeaway for Business - Keep in mind the aging demographic of China. It's important to tailor your offering to include elderly Chinese. While this consumer group tends to be price sensitive (as a result of their past - not unlike depression era Americans), their children aren't. Their children, that have money, will often buy goods and services for them. This age group is only going to increase with China's demographics.
5) Chinese Mothers Rule

One of the greatest aspects of China's miraculous rise out of poverty has been the empowerment of millions of women, and the creation of one of China's most powerful consumer groups... Chinese mothers.

Chinese mothers have increasing spending power, and they have become the driving force behind Chinese household consumption. Often, this spending is geared towards the family, and in a report by Mastercard in 2010, 75% of Chinese women said they controlled household spending. For example, Chinese consumers (women in particular), have caused shortages of baby formula in Hong Kong, because they are worried about the safety of domestic versions.

As I mentioned in key learning 2, practically as many adult women wore Disney branded apparel, princess crowns, or Minnie Mouse ears as the children. Young Chinese women are brand conscious and are not afraid to spend more in order to portray a certain image.

  • Key Takeaway for Business - Many middle-class Chinese women have become the #1 breadwinner in the family, and are not afraid to drive buying decisions. Do not forget these women, and tailor your marketing strategy accordingly.


Chinese consumers are becoming an increasingly powerful and important consumer group that Western companies need to understand. Hopefully, through our experiences at Shanghai Disneyland, we've been able to convey some key consumer trends in a fun way