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5 Chinese Holidays Retailers Should Know

The most important gift-giving holidays and how retailers can connect with them.
In the recent article “5 things to know about Chinese consumers” it was pointed out that “Chinese consumers love to buy gifts.” This is because Chinese culture is filled with festivals and gift-giving occasions, which means Chinese consumers often enjoy shopping for others more then they do for themselves.

Here are 8 Chinese holidays retailers need to know about, and a few ideas on how to provide Chinese consumers with what they’re looking for.

1 - Lunar New Year 新年 - February

Most retailers in China are already well aware of the importance of the Chinese New Year, and plan promotions around it. Here are the main activities that take during Chinese New Year and how retailers leverage them.

Cleaning – During CNY people clean their houses, thoroughly. The tradition is actually based around avoiding cleaning on new years day, which some believe could have the negative effect of “sweeping away good fortune.” This is the perfect opportunity for retailers to over cleaning products, supplies, instructions or marketing campaigns around focused around cleaning as a theme. Imagine Nike promoting a shoe designed specifically for “home-cleaning”.

Red Envelopes – I won’t explain these since you’re mostly likely familiar with the act of giving money as a gift in a red envelope during CNY and other occasions, and the red envelope has already become an common marketing image for retailers in China.

Here are some of the most popular ways retailers use red envelopes in marketing: Red envelope gift certificates, giving out or selling premium red envelopes that customers can use during gift giving, and red envelope sweepstakes that give consumers a change to win cash or prizes.

2 - Lantern Festival 元宵節 - February or March

The lantern festival is one of my favorite Chinese festivals because seeing a sky filled with glowing lanterns is simply stunning. Here are the main activities that take place during Lantern Festival and how retailers can leverage them.

Lighting lanterns – This is the main event. Friends, families and couples will buy large paper lanterns, write some prayers, messages, or wishes on them, light them and watch them float up and away in the sky. Some retailers during this time will incorporate a lantern theme into their marketing, but it’s not as prevalent as you might think.

Here are a few of my own ideas: What if retailers organized branded lantern launching parties, and gave away branded lanterns? Large brands could sponsor lantern shaped hot air balloons to float over the city, or offer special pens, markers,  and stickers that could be used to decorate lanterns. What about a lantern game app?

Rice Dumplings ( yuanxiao ) – These are small, sweet, rice dumplings filled with rose petals, sesame, bean paste, or fruits that will be given as gifts and eaten during the lantern festival. How can retailers leverage yuanxiao? I’m not sure… perhaps they can get creative. Novelty clothing for cute little rice dumplings?

3 - Tomb Sweeping Day 清明節 - April

Tomb sweeping day is all about paying respect to the dead, and honoring your ancestors, to this end Tomb Sweeping Day is more of a solemn day of remembrance then a big party, and retailers should be sensitive to this.

Tomb Sweeping – Tombs of relatives are cleaned and maintained. Many times relatives will bring presents such as the deceased persons favorite food or drink. Fake money is burned as an offering to the dead. As cremation becomes more popular the customs are changing, with less actual cleaning taking place. Since this is a day of respect for the dead, retailers should be sensitive to this and plan accordingly. 

Kite Flying – This custom is enjoyed by both the young and old, and is believed to bring good luck, in addition to being fun. Retailers have an opportunity here to use kites in their marketing themes as a playful but respectful way to show support of tomb sweeping day. 

4 - Dragon Boat Festival 端午節 - June

This is one of the most important festivals in Chinese tradition, and involves the following activities:

Racing dragon boats – Boats shapes and decorated to look like dragons are raced against each other manned by teams of rowers. Retailers should look for ways to promote team spirit, and sports-like competition during this holiday. Why not sponsor a local dragon boat team, or create branded “dragon boat” team uniforms for employees?

Eating Zongzi – Zongzi are steamed rice balls wrapped in leaves. There are lots of different kinds of Zongzi these days ranging from salty to sweet, and although they are most popular during dragon boat festival, they are actually available year round and make a great snack or meal.  Retailers, at least here in Taiwan, are all over Zongzi. Starbucks famously offers sweet Zongzi during dragon boat festival, and markets these extensively. See an example here.

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5 - Moon Festival 中秋節 - September

Also known as Mid-Autumn Festival, Moon Festival is linked to the legends of Chang E, the mythical Moon Goddess of Immortality. It’s a family occasion, and is all about eating lots of good foods, especially sweets and cakes. Here are a few of the most popular activities during Moon Festival:

Giving, and eating moon-cakes – Moon-cakes are round or rectangular pastries that usually contain a rich thick filling made from red bean or lotus seed paste, or even duck egg yolks. Giving moon cakes to friends and relatives, clients and contacts is so popular during this time that it’s a billion dollar industry in China, and has resulted in the demand for high-end “luxury” mooncakes.

Courtship – Love is in the moon during the moon festival, and many young people in China use this occasion to celebrate marriages, pray for romance, or create a little romance on their own. Retailers in China can use this as an opportunity to show their support for love and romance either in their marketing campaigns or in their product mix.

Being aware of popular festivals in China is just one way for brands to localize, for to learn more about localization check out our article on “8 ways apparel retailers in China can embrace localization.“

By Chris Hubbard 
  Market Strategy

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