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China's 'single economy' provides business opportunities

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-02-14 00:48
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XI'AN - While a rising number of single people worry their Chinese parents, the demographic shift has become a business opportunity for retailers and service providers.

Cui Sha, 33, works in a training agency in Beijing. Like many singles who live alone and have a large disposable income and willingness to spend, Cui has a unique requirement in choosing furniture and home appliances -- they must be small in size.

To satisfy the need of solo consumers, home appliance manufacturers have introduced smaller products ranging from rice cookers, ovens and kettles to refrigerators and washing machines.

On Alibaba's Tmall online marketplace, one store has sold more than 3,000 mini-sized home appliances in just one month.

Food companies also want to take advantage of the single market. Haidilao, China's dominant hotpot chain, uses large cuddly toys to attract single diners.

According to Cao Yan, a customer manager at a Xi'an-based Haidilao outlet, her restaurant started providing toys such as a large teddy bears to accompany solo diners two years ago.

"We pay more attention to solo diners to make them feel less lonely and embarrassed as most diners come with friends and family members," said Cao, who has seen a rising number of customers eating alone over the past 12 years.

Food delivery services have benefited from the trend too. The Financial Times said in a report last August that 65 percent of orders of Meituan-Dianping, a food delivery and restaurant review company, came from unmarried customers.

Travelling alone has also become a popular choice of entertainment for singles who are well-educated, financially independent and willing to improve their living quality.

Zhang Chen, 32, is single and spends around 30,000 yuan ($4,700) on tourism each year.

"The unattached lifestyle gives me more freedom. I don't need to work out complicated plans in advance and I can visit wherever I want," Zhang said.

According to statistics from Chinese online travel agency Ctrip, the number of passengers travelling alone has grown from 8.3 percent in 2014 to 15 percent in 2016.

Fu Weigang, executive president with SIFL Institute, cited a report from Southwest Securities that China had around 170 million single adults of marriageable age in 2013.

The shift is driven by a trend of delaying or opting out of marriage entirely, a rising divorce rate, and a profound change in young people's perceptions of remaining single.

In a culture that places value on family, Chinese parents are often deeply involved in their children's marriage.

Xi'an singleton Li Wei, 28, will celebrate the upcoming Valentine's Day with her single friends to dodge family pressure. "I'm not in a hurry to settle down until I meet my Mr. Right," she said.

Xia Xuemin, guest researcher with Public Policy Research Institute of Zhejiang University, said that a family consisting of two people needs one refrigerator, while a family with one person also needs one refrigerator."Therefore, singletons can better boost consumption," he said.

However, some researchers are worried that the rising number of unmarried people may have a negative influence on the economy.

Fu argues that singletons who are rich tend to focus more on themselves and life quality, but those with low income may not be willing to spend.

Yu Weihua, an economist with Xi'an Jiaotong University, said that an increasing number of single people meant a falling birth rate and a decreasing working population.

He suggests government issue more supporting policies to encourage people to get married and have children.

Cui Sha enjoys most of her time living alone in a tiny apartment. "Being single is nothing wrong. Nearly all girls want to find the right person. But you can still enjoy yourself while you are waiting," she said.

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