Women in Asia-Pacific are Buying in the Fast Lane

Women in Asia-Pacific are Buying in the Fast Lane

Across the region, for every ad featuring strong women and girls, there’s the inexplicable product that was marketed specifically to women—but didn’t have to be. From household cleaners to snacks to breakfast cereals, some brands are still creating unnecessarily gendered versions of products where often the only unique feature is pink or “glammed up” packaging. 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for brands to market to women. In fact, some new brands are stealing the spotlight with solutions to women’s real life challenges. Across the region, female consumers are finding value in period-proof underwear; tampons and pads that help to end period poverty; and make-up brands that source and support local women village enterprises.

For brands to succeed today, they need to find ways to address the problems women face. The reality is that women still shoulder most of the household responsibilities. On average, 88% of women in Asia-Pacific say they have shared or primary responsibility for daily shopping, household chores and food prep. As a result, they’re also the primary purchaser for everyday household items. But taking on this second, sometimes third job means that women have additional demands each week and less time to meet them. This makes women one of the largest opportunities for convenience-led technologies, products and services.

But convenience isn’t the only opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of women. Financial pressures are compounding women’s daily lives. One in three (32%) women in Asia-Pacific believe that in the last five years their financial position has worsened or stayed the same, compared with 29% of men. The good news is that greater participation in the workforce, increasing disposable income and improved labour reforms are contributing to Asia-Pacific women feeling like they are getting ahead financially (68%). This is two times higher than women in Europe and North America (39% and 34%, respectively).

Increasing average disposable incomes across Asia-Pacific, particularly in higher-income brackets, are contributing to this optimism, but the vast majority of Asia-Pacific consumers will earn less than $27 a day ($10,000 USD a year) in the next five years. While women’s financial situation is improving, it often comes from a low base, and with the World Economic Forum’s gender forecast for East Asia and the Pacific highlighting that it will take 171 years to close the gender gap1, there is still a long way to go.

But compared with other regions, fewer women in Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia feel they only have enough money to cover their basic needs (22% and 29%, respectively). Their financial reality and their perspective that life is improving does not necessarily equate to their lower daily financial realities. They seem more content with less. Interestingly, men’s and women’s perspectives in Asia-Pacific are more closely aligned than in any other region globally.

There is growing awareness and there are efforts to close the gap for women within the region, but women here still face serious barriers. Depending on where they live, that could include a lack of hiring diversity, a lack of women in positions of power; be that government or corporate, short or non-existent maternity and paternity leave, and large percentages of women participating in the informal economy without access to social support. 

So how do we push for progress? Companies can become champions for women, who are balancing traditional expectations of society and expectations of progress. This can include addressing inequalities in pay and leadership; establishing flexible hours and options to work from home; providing access to affordable daycare services; working to destigmatize paternity leave; supporting women entrepreneurs in their supply chain; and providing education loans/skills development classes. Ultimately, companies have the power to provide an environment where women have choices, freedom and are empowered to lead the life they choose.

Outside of the workplace, women are looking for ways to get back what they value the most—time—which often means reducing time spent on weekday chores. Brands can help women by enriching and simplifying their daily lives, supporting women in underprivileged communities such as providing access to public toilets for women in India, and creating products and services that address the realities of the daily struggles and juggles in her life.

Across Asia-Pacific, 61% of women say that a convenient store location is a highly influential factor when deciding where to shop, compared with 53% of men. The expanding footprint of convenience stores across Asia is testament to women’s increasing need for proximity as they battle daily congestion to work and the demands of the home. Women are looking for ways to maximize efficiency, preferring stores that are easy to get in and out of, have organized layouts or that offer time-saving services.

When shopping online, women in Asia-Pacific are more likely to want a risk-free experience without sacrificing the convenience they crave. Women are significantly less trusting of online sites, with almost half of women in Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia, 46% and 45% saying that they are not confident that their personal information is safe and secure, 18 percentage points higher than men. 

Despite financial, work and time pressures, women are laser-focused on living healthier, better lives. They aren’t willing to compromise on their health, which is a top priority globally, but it’s even more important in Asia-Pacific.

Health is a Top Concern

Ninety-three percent of women in Asia-Pacific are looking to change their diet in the next 12 months, which is on par with women in Latin America. Southeast Asia now has an estimated 96 million people suffering from Type II diabetes, which accounts for one-fifth of all cases worldwide, so it comes as no surprise that there are ongoing discussions and implementation of sugar taxes across many markets like Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore. At the forefront of these discussions are women who are trying to curb behavior.

How do women interpret what’s healthy? Women in Asia-Pacific are significantly more likely than men to read health claims on packages and nutrition labels to find this information. They’re looking for transparent labels to help them make informed choices, and they want companies to be open about where their products come from—as well as how they’re produced. Transparency is extremely important to all consumers in Asia-Pacific, more so than any other region, with 77% of women and 75% of men saying they feel more positively about companies who are transparent about product origins and how they are grown or produced.

Brands can win hearts by prioritizing quality ingredients. In Southeast Asia, 64% of women believe the quality of ingredients and materials determine whether a product is premium, compared to 56% of men, followed by superior performance or functionality (60% for women versus 51% for men).

So what does this all mean for manufacturers and retailers? 

It means that shifting gender norms are swiftly moving from minority to mainstream, especially in markets dominated by working-age Millennial consumers. Yet, gender bias remains commonplace in modern-day advertising, and both men and women are noticing. Stereotypes that might have been acceptable a few years ago now elicit cringes, further burdening women and discouraging men from purchasing or using a product. While cultural norms vary globally, the tides are turning—even in the most conservative societies. Men play an important role in women’s empowerment and equality journey, and it’s critical that corporations and their brands communicate the importance of the role men play from encouraging and defending inclusivity in the workplace to sharing the load at the home. 

Brands that are getting it right either through social responsibility, sustainability, health and convenience will continue to win wallets. Those that don’t change fast enough won’t. Said differently, patronage is contingent on a true understanding of a woman’s needs and reflects her reality on screen, on the shelf and in the store. 

It also means that companies that want to succeed won’t only donate to women’s causes. They will actively hire women, ensure women are paid equally and offer maternity and paternity leave. It’s not just good for business, it’s the only choice. Companies that step away from media headlines and roll up their sleeves to make sure their policies help women both as employees and as people living in the community, will be contributing and growing a powerful group that holds considerable sway over household spending.

In short, brands and retailers that focus more on how they can lessen the load on women’s shoulders and less on the color of their packaging will earn more dollars.


The insights in this article were derived from the following sources:

  • 1 World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2018
  • The Conference Board® Global Consumer Confidence Survey is conducted in collaboration with Nielsen Q1 2019.
  • The Nielsen Q1 2019 Loyalty Survey
  • Nielsen Global Premiumization Survey Q2 2018
  • Nielsen Global Commerce Study Q2 2018
  • Nielsen Global Ingredient and Dining-Out Trends Report Aug 2016  
  • Nielsen Global Health and Wellness Q3 2016