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Why Chinese moms love name-brand toys and American moms sew sock puppets

Chinese mother and her daughters
AP Photo/Kin Cheung
From the US to China, millennial mothers are similar as consumers except when it comes to education.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

We hear all the time about how global millennials work, travel, date and shop, but we rarely hear about how they mother.

To reach this critical market, it’s worth examining the choices of Chinese and American customers in the demographic, born in late 1970s to the early 2000s. For example, China’s one-child policy fuels consumption patterns, competitiveness about education, and more extreme doting among parents and grandparents. Ultimately, millennial moms appear motivated by the same thing: buying the absolute best for their children, with a limited emphasis on cost. But what Chinese and American moms consider to be “premium” is in fact different.

American moms are looking for items that have longevity and can adapt past a specific moment in time (such as a high chair that converts to a regular chair when the child grows) to increase the use and value. Chinese moms want highly specialized products to be the absolute best at one thing instead of a “jack of all trades” tool that ultimately is not the best.

Chinese moms want products to help project their femininity, like Swarovski crystals. American moms, however, are highly focused on products that are authentic and don’t look fake. They are also overwhelmed by products that have too many bells and whistles, so a product and its package needs to convey a return to simplicity even if it’s a complex item. This explains the popularity of the website Etsy, since American Gen Y moms embrace handmade, one-of-a-kind items that stand out against other mass produced goods.

Safety is a universal concern among both groups of moms. Chinese moms want proof that a product is high quality, made with safe materials and has packaging that communicates good craftsmanship, brand heritage, sound manufacturing, and design. They have a harder time accepting young brands because they need to believe in the product’s history to demonstrate quality and safety. (Keep in mind, long brand history in China means five years or more, since commercial markets only reestablished 30 years ago.) American moms are also looking for proof of these qualities but with one big difference: they are willing to embrace new brands as an underdog that has assumed integrity. An example of this is the Honest Company, which actress Jessica Alba started to sell products like diapers and soaps that are safe for kids and the environment.

Perhaps the sharpest difference between the two groups is around educational toys. Chinese moms, in part due to the pressure caused by the one-child policy, want LeapFrog products that will help their kids learn about shapes, colors, animals, hand-eye coordination, maps, and math. But young US moms are moving away from the intense pressure Gen X mothers put on their kids to learn from an early age (think Baby Einstein). Instead, they’re turning to concepts such as Kiwi Crate, which sends once-a-month care packages filled with creative projects for kids; and Toca Boca, which develops digital toys and games, where there are no rewards or winners—it’s all about using your imagination.

Chinese moms are attracted to a look and feel that is international. They have strong cultural perceptions about what is “good” to buy. For example, they believe in American toys; European food; and Japanese or Korean fashion. American moms often gravitate to products or brands that feel comfortable for them, but they also want to expose their children to a variety of global “experiences,” like  Little Passports, a monthly package of letters, souvenirs, and activities that highlight places around the world.

Both Chinese and American Gen Y moms believe that they cannot sacrifice their own well-being for their baby. They care about creating balance. For American moms, this means investing in family experiences that she enjoys as much as her kids do. For Chinese moms, this means making sure to indulge both herself and her child with status brands, or items that make them feel special.

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