MGI Research

Beyond income: Redrawing Asia’s consumer map

| Discussion Paper
Asia’s consumer markets are not only growing rapidly but diversifying and segmenting. Three changes in perspective are key to understanding new consumption paths in the region.

Asia is the world’s consumption growth engine—miss Asia and you could miss half of the global picture, a $10 trillion consumption growth opportunity over the next decade. Scale continues to be a key characteristic, but the story of the next ten years and beyond is one of rising diversity in consumer markets in this already diverse region amid significant social, demographic, and technological change.

Three changes in perspective are key to understanding the new consumption paths being blazed by Asia’s consumers. First, as incomes rise across Asia, more consumers will reach the highest tiers of the income pyramid, and movement within the consuming class is likely to be a larger driver of consumption growth than movement into it. Second, cities will continue to drive consumption growth, but promising sources of growth are increasingly diverse cohorts within cities, such as Insta-grannies in Seoul, Generation Z gamers in Surabaya, career moms in Manila, and lifestyle-indulging digital natives in Chengdu. Third, as the relationship between income and consumption breaks down in some instances, new consumption curves are emerging in specific product categories. Income-driven S-curves may flatten or shift as business innovation and new technologies enable more people, even on lower incomes, to afford goods and services.

Part of a series on the future of Asia, this research focuses on the region’s consumer markets, surveying the outlook for consumption and identifying major shifts in consumption patterns and behavior over the next decade. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect economies in Asia and around the world in fall 2021, this research aims to look beyond the economic effects of the pandemic, focusing on the factors that may influence long-term consumption growth in Asia to 2030 and beyond.

From people moving into the consuming class to moving within the consuming class

Asian consumers are expected to account for half of global consumption growth in the next decade, equivalent to a $10 trillion opportunity. Globally, one of every two upper-middle-income and above households is expected to be in Asia, and one of every two consumer transactions is likely to occur in the region.

An increasing number of people are projected to join the consuming class, defined as spending more than $11 a day in 2011 purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. In 2000, only 15 percent of Asia’s population was part of the consuming class; the incomes of the remaining three billion people were still insufficient to support discretionary spending. However, over the next decade, a significant reversal is likely. By 2030, three billion people, or 70 percent of Asia’s total population, may be part of the consuming class.

Members of the consuming class are expected to attain higher income levels than ever before, shifting the center of gravity of the income pyramid sharply upward and changing consumption patterns. In the past 20 years, 80 percent of Asia’s consumption growth came from lower income tiers of the consuming class as new entrants joined. In the next decade, 80 percent of that growth could come from higher-income consumers (Exhibit 1).

In the next decade, 80 percent of consumption growth may come from the top two tiers of the income pyramid.

From people moving to cities to diversifying segments within cities

In the past, companies wishing to understand the granularity of growth in Asia mostly focused on which cities would experience the most rapid growth. Cities are likely to continue to be the main source of the region’s consumption growth and are expected to account for more than 85 percent of it over the next decade.

Rising incomes are one important aspect of consumption growth, but focus needs to turn to increasingly diverse consumer cohorts within cities that are driving that growth. As social, demographic, and technological transformations collide, ten consumer shifts stand out across Asia that could offer new angles on growth (Exhibit 2).

As Asia's consumption landscape diversifies, ten new angles of growth stand out.
  1. Smaller households.The average size of households has declined in most Asian countries over the past 20 years, by, for example, about 10 percent in Indonesia and almost 30 percent in China. Almost one-third of households in advanced Asian economies and more than 15 percent in China are already single-person ones, and a robust “singles economy” is emerging. Social media, home food delivery, smaller packaged food portions, solo dining and travel, and even pets and robot “friends” as companions are all on the rise.
  2. Aging. The population of Asian seniors, defined as individuals 60 and over, is expected to grow by around 40 percent over the next decade, and seniors’ consumption may grow twice as fast as that of the rest of the population in many Asian countries. Seniors are increasingly consuming online, a trend the pandemic appears to have accelerated. In only nine months of 2020, seniors’ share of China’s online population jumped from 6 to 11 percent; by 2030, more than 95 percent of seniors in Australia, Japan, and South Korea are expected to be online, and, under conservative projections, the share in China could exceed two-thirds.
  3. Rise of digital natives. Digital natives (people born between 1980 and 2012) are expected to account for 40 to 50 percent of Asia’s consumption by 2030. With variations within the region, Asia’s digital generation tends to use non-Asian social media platforms, but follow local social media influencers, and use Asian e-commerce platforms. Many digital natives are financing consumption with borrowing. In China, surveys indicate that they may take out more consumer loans than any other generation.
  4. Women’s economic empowerment. Five types of women’s economic empowerment—increased participation in the labor force, rising income opportunities, increased financial and digital inclusion, changing family structure, and a larger role in purchasing decisions—could boost Asia’s consumption growth. Based on the GDP growth potential from narrowing gender gaps estimated in previous MGI research, women’s empowerment could add 30 percent to Asia’s consumption growth in the period to 2030, or $3 trillion. Several categories could experience growth of 25 percent or more, including insurance and financial services, apparel, hotels and restaurants, and household goods.
  5. New channel mix. Digitization is changing the conventional view of Asia’s evolving channel mix, which focused on fragmented traditional trade being replaced by modern store-based trade. Some retail markets are leapfrogging straight from traditional formats to e-commerce, which is expected to reach 30 percent of retail sales in China and 20 percent in emerging Asian economies by 2025, according to Euromonitor. Moreover, technology is disrupting traditional route-to-market approaches, thereby addressing inefficiencies; eB2B platforms do so by connecting traditional trade or disintermediating traditional distributors and wholesalers.
  6. Asian brands gain share. Asian brands account for between 65 and 95 percent of the region’s consumer spending in categories including automotive, in-home electronics, and consumer packaged goods (CPG). However, the mix of local, regional, and non-Asian may change. Over the past five years, regional players have gained three percentage points of market share in automotive and six percentage points in in-home consumer electronics. In CPG, local and non-Asian brands have had high shares. Regional players’ share has been low, but they grew faster than the overall market in most categories over the past five years, and twice as fast in categories such as beauty and personal care.
  7. New notions of ownership. Economic pressures, changing consumer attitudes, and technology have prompted many Asian consumers to consider alternatives to traditional ownership. Sharing, rental, and subscription economies are gaining traction in, for instance, mobility, fashion, electronics, and housing. Between 2018 and 2020, the share of adults with subscription services in Japan, China, and Australia jumped by five to ten percentage points. In 2020, 89 percent of Chinese online adults had at least one subscription service. Secondhand ownership and secondhand marketplace apps have taken off, and ownership is shifting toward digital, rather than physical, goods and services. Revenue from many digital goods has grown between 25 and 55 percent in Asia over the past five years, according to McKinsey’s Global Media Report 2020.
  8. The big convergence. Consumer demand is being reshaped by a “big convergence” in which many consumer needs are being aggregated and served by digital ecosystems with varying degrees of integration. Super apps are the most integrated type of digital ecosystem, offering a one-stop digital shop for customers with multiple apps and complementary services. Super apps are prevalent across the region with local champions emerging from India to South Korea. Most super apps started from high-frequency functions such as messaging and finance, before adding additional services. Today, many superapps cover needs from healthcare to mobility, entertainment , travel, e-commerce, and others.
  9. Segment of one. Asia has the right attributes to propel the spread of personalization, including explosive growth in data creation, capture, and replication that IDC expects to triple between 2020 and 2025 in the region. Asian consumers appear relatively willing to share their data. A 2021 Euromonitor survey found that in China, India, and Thailand, more than 45 percent of respondents said that they share their data for personalized offers and deals, compared with less than 30 percent in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
  10. Eco-responsibility. Amid rising concern in Asia about sustainability, eco-responsible consumption is on the rise. In an Ipsos poll conducted in late 2019, more than 80 percent of respondents in China, India, and emerging Asian economies said that they had made changes to the products and services they buy because they were concerned about climate change. Willingness to pay for more sustainable appears to be rising. In one McKinsey survey, about 80 percent of Chinese and Indian respondents said there were willing to pay for sustainable packaging, compared with 45 to 65 percent of respondents in the United States and Western Europe. Intentions expressed in surveys may not always translate into actual purchases because effective premiums for sustainable products often exceed 30 percent, but rising incomes could close the gap.

From income-driven S-curves to market-specific consumption curves

As companies respond to the diversifying Asian consumer landscape with new offerings, business models, and technology-enabled innovation, the conventional relationship between income and consumption patterns is breaking down in some categories. As a result, categories for which penetration was previously well predicted by income levels are now subject to new forces that companies and investors could usefully factor into their thinking.

Alongside income-driven S-curves are new market-specific consumption curves. An example is “access curves” emerging in categories such as mobility, gaming, and banking, where business model innovation and digital platforms unlock latent demand by enabling lower-income consumers to obtain services that they could not previously access or were priced out of (Exhibit 3). In private vehicle–based mobility, for instance, the penetration of car ownership follows a well-established S-curve, experiencing a sharp increase when countries reach sufficiently high incomes. However, in the case of new mobility solutions such as ride hailing, penetration is much less dependent on income. Even in categories where a strong relationship with income continues, S-curves may shift as a result of cost innovation, with tipping points occurring at an earlier stage in economies’ development. Examples include smartphones and LED lights.

Access curves: New forms of ownership and business model innovation may unlock previously priced-out consumers.

Between 15 and 65 percent of value pools may follow different consumption curves over the next decade

A significant proportion of demand is migrating to market-specific consumption curves, but the size of this shift is likely to differ by sector. In three sectors reviewed—automotive, CPG, and financial services—between 15 and 65 percent of value pools could follow new consumption curves (Exhibit 4). In automotive, the shift could be as high as 65 percent of value. In financial services, 15 to 25 percent could shift. The relative importance of the ten consumption shifts may differ by sector, too.

Asia’s shifting consumption map and new growth angles could shift significant sector value to new curves.

Companies need to consider how these shifts could play out in their sector, how much value could shift, and the impact of those shifts on the sector’s competitive dynamics. Markets that would be deemed unripe for entry using an income-driven S-curve framework are already being served by companies that succeed in innovating their business model or cost structure.

It is time for companies to redraw their consumer growth map of Asia

Each company has a map of growth, but this can all too easily become outdated without a concerted effort to understand and track dynamically changing markets. Companies may need to rethink how demand for their products and services is likely to evolve and to look carefully at which of the ten growth angles are relevant to their businesses. In the automotive sector, players may capitalize on the big convergence by investing in connectivity services, in-car entertainment, and interfaces with local ecosystems and super apps. They need to consider how to unlock new demand through innovation in business models or product development. In financial services, new financial inclusion access curves could open up new opportunities to meet previously underserved demand. For instance, they could capitalize on customers’ leapfrogging directly to digital wallets by using this shift as a launch pad to expand and offer other products.

With a refreshed growth map, companies may then consider adopting a more agile operating model, including bolder resource reallocation; increase the speed of innovation in order to get to market more quickly; empower local decision makers, given that centralized decision making and execution are not likely to be sufficient to capture the nuances of local markets; and ensure that the company board is digitally savvy.

Companies not only need to be agile but also need to take an open, networked approach. In increasingly diverse and dynamic markets, it is likely to be hard for any company to be all things to all consumers, and for many, a promising way forward may be in partnerships and ecosystems. Companies need to decide whether to lead their own ecosystem or participate in an existing one, depending on which role they could fulfil most effectively. They need to be able to navigate new digital ecosystems and handle much larger amounts of data, and often the most effective way to do this is within partnerships.

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