Andrew Liu has no kids, but he has plenty of plush and squeaky toys in various corners of his apartment that he and his wife share with their “son” – a one-year-old pudgy mutt named Kahuna.
“We spent hundreds of RMB each month on him for his food and treats. I often look for dog-related products whenever I browse on Taobao, which is almost everyday,” said Liu, a software engineer based in Hangzhou. His latest purchases for Kahuna included a doggy bed, a traveling water jug and glow-in-the-dark harness that says “Protector of the Universe” in Chinese, all of which were bought during Double 12, Taobao’s annual shopping festival held each Dec. 12.
Liu and his wife, both in their late-20s, are among the booming middle class in China whose idea of pets is quite different from their parents’ generation who regarded animals mainly as a functional tools to help guard the house or the fields, not a loving irreplaceable companion and family member. According to the Shenzhen-based ASKCI Consulting, as of 2017, an estimate of 59.12 million or roughly 17% of the households in China have a furry family member, and the figure is expected to grow
A white paper report by goumin.com, one of China’s most-frequented online forums, Chinese pet owners spent over 170 billion RMB ($25 billion) in pet cost, 27% more than the previous year. ASKCI also said that in the next three to five years, China’s pet industry will see 20% annualized growth each year and set to hit around RMB 250 billion by 2022.
Taobao: Gateway to Your Pet’s Heart
As China’s biggest online shopping platform, Taobao is an all-too-important channel for China’s pet retail industry. According to Taobao, consumption of pet-related products on the platform will likely surpass 50 billion RMB in the next three years. A telling sign of the expected uptrend is the nearly four million orders of pet products placed on Taobao’s 12.12 shopping event alone.
The diversity of pet products and services on Taobao is also expanding from the usual items, such as pet food, toys, clothes and beds, to more eccentric products such as customized cat caves and dog houses, digital feeders and water bowls, to pet wedding and funeral services.
Taobao said this year merchants on the platform sold a total of 3,000 smart litter boxes, priced at RMB 5,000 each. A pet photographer on Taobao also sold over 3,000 sessions of high-end photo shoots this year.
China market watchers say attitude shifts toward pets in China will continue to drive the products Chinese pet owners buy for their fur babies into premium territory. According to German marketing firm, GfK, in 2015, nearly one-fifth of the pet food sold in China was on the all-natural high end, meaning it contained no synthetic ingredient – a 12% rise from the previous year.
The same go-upscale trend is also happening on Taobao. The platform said, for example, there are over 100 flavors of wet cat food sold on the platform, and the product origin varies from Thailand, New Zealand and the US.
For the Lius, Kahuna is more than a pet. He is family member and a faithful companion.
“He brings us so much joy so we want to make sure he is happy too,” said Liu.