They go online to shop for the latest in fashion, lifestyle goods and the trendiest digital products. China's new migrant workers are part of a growing niche market that entrepreneurs are eager to exploit. Wang Hongyi reports from Shanghai and Shenzhen.
Migrant workers from rural areas of Chongqing go back to work by train to coastal provinces like Guangdong and Zhejiang after a holiday. Two stylish young people are eye-catching among the crowd. [Provided to China Daily]
Twenty-year-old Wang Huahua spots a high-waisted chiffon frock with a ruffled collar. She pairs it with black leggings and a chic bun on her head. Like any other girl at her age, Wang likes dressing up and window-shopping.
Hailing from Xianxian County, Cangzhou in Hebei province, Wang arrived in Beijing four years ago after finishing middle school and worked as a waitress in a small restaurant in the capital.
Though work is tiring, she still prefers city life.
Whenever she gets an off day, she goes window-shopping with friends or surfs online for the latest fashion trends.
"I run out of money every month, and can't save a single penny," she says. Her 1,500-yuan ($240) monthly income is spent almost entirely on clothes and make-up.
Though her parents are pressing her to go home and get married, Wang is reluctant to leave Beijing, where she enjoys an independent urban lifestyle.
"They've lived in the village for too long and they are too traditional. They want to have a say in their children's life. But I'm still young, I don't want to live like them. I want the freedom of choosing my own life and to explore new possibilities," she says.
Wang is among 100 million young migrant workers in China born after the 1980s, the landmark decade when China's economy started to take off.
They are very different from their parents, the old generation of migrant workers who came to eke out a living and sent every penny home. These children, often called new generation migrant workers, now account for about 60 percent of the country's labor force from outside the cities.
They are considered more fortunate and they have bigger ambitions. They also want larger pay packages and better working conditions. In return, they are also more willing to spend.
"They have their own consumer attitudes, like other young people in urban areas. They are less likely to save their wages for the family back in the hometowns," says Jin Lu, a market and consumer researcher in Shanghai.
"Life in the rural areas has improved a lot compared to before. Parents don't live in poverty and don't need contributions from their children who are working in the cities. This also means that the new generation migrant workers can spend more on themselves," he says.
They are a huge potential market for entrepreneurs. Already, some businesses are zooming in on these young consumers.
For example, Maimaibao, an information technology company founded in 2006 and based in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, offers a shopping platform for migrants and residents from third- and fourth-tier cities.
Customers can shop online using their mobile phones, through an online application.
"This is a special group with unique consumer characteristics. Pressured by working conditions and income, migrant workers are less likely to go downtown or to large shopping centers.
"Meanwhile, their mobile phones have become their main entertainment outlet," says Liu Hongfei, deputy general manager of Maimaibao. "They can spend more than three hours surfing with their mobile phone."
Maimaibao has done a survey, which documents the spending habits and online mobile phone usage of this particular consumer group.
"Only a few of them are still working on the land. Most have flocked into big cities to work in factories or service industries," Liu says.
"They may have lower incomes but this group is more curious about the outside world, and they also have the need for shopping compared with white-collar workers," Liu says.
"Based on their consumer behavior and psychology, we developed a mobile phone-based e-commerce platform, which provides a full range of merchandise targeted at migrants," he says.
Liu Guang, 24, from Xingyi, Guizhou province, is one of those mobile phone shoppers. Working at a clothing accessories company in Longgang district of Shenzhen, which is far from downtown shopping, Liu relies on his mobile phone to shop and chat with his e-buddies.
"I ordered a camera through Maimaibao, and it costs about 500 yuan. The quality is not bad. Now I'm saving money to buy a notebook," he says.
Without the burden of sending money back home, Liu spends most of his 2,500-yuan income each month.
"I don't have any particular preference. If I like it, I buy it."
Couriers on their bicycles or motorbikes are familiar figures at the gates of many Shenzhen factories, and the recipients are mostly young migrant workers like Liu Guang.
The new generation is also more brand conscious.
"We have seen a strong awareness of brand among more migrant workers, especially the younger ones," says Tang Kim Kook, the regional sales director of Bosch Power Tools China, a supplier of portable electric power tools and accessories.
"They don't choose cheap but poor quality products like they used to. They are now looking for branded quality."
Manufacturers are sitting up and taking notice of the new trend. Last year, Bosh Power Tools launched its T-Edition products, aimed at mid-range users, most of whom are migrant workers from second- and third-tier Chinese cities.
Sales of the T-Edition products have already exceeded 500,000 units since they were launched, and Bosch announced this year that another six models will boost the current range.
Another new finding is that the new generation of migrant workers in China has a set of new life values.
According to a survey by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions last year, they want happiness and a sense of belonging, not just to make a living.
They want equality and fair treatment, instead of the long-suffering endurance and persistence of the older generation.
They are also focusing on improving their self-worth as full-fledged members of a China that is itself finding its place on the international stage.