24 October 2016
Chinese consumers have welcomed Dyson's products even though they are much more expensive than the domestically-made models.
Chinese consumers have welcomed Dyson's products even though they are much more expensive than the domestically-made models.

What can China learn from Dyson’s success?

During China’s annual parliament session this month, a sub-meeting among Guangdong delegates is said to have seen heated discussions erupt on one topic: rice cookers.

Some delegates apparently raised questions as to why China can’t make a rice cooker that can match the latest Japanese models that mainland tourists are snapping up during overseas trips.

Had the lawmakers been aware of British firm Dyson’s latest operating results, they would have perhaps brought up one more product segment to the discussion agenda — air purifiers.

Dyson, an engineering and technology firm famous for its cordless vacuums and bladeless fans, has reported a 20 percent rise in 2015 profits thanks to a tripling of its China revenue.

A surge in sales of purifiers was a key factor behind the jump in Dyson’s mainland income.

The company launched its Pure Cool purifier fan last year. The product was targeted at Asian markets, particularly China where air pollution has been a big problem.

Dyson claims that Pure Cool can remove 99.95 percent of ultrafine particles as small as 0.1 microns.

Microscopic particles in the air are among the biggest hazards posed by air pollution because they can penetrate the lung’s membrane and cause major damage.

Given that Chinese people are faced with the pollution threat in their daily lives, domestic manufacturers should have come up with decent purifiers long before Dyson entered the market.

But Chinese firms were happy enough to focus on the cheap stuff and leave the most lucrative high end market to foreign makers.

“They are useless,” is the common refrain of Chinese consumers when commenting on domestically-made purifiers.

“In the case of poor-selling cheap models, you can’t even get the filter replaced. Very few shops carry them.”

Feedback on foreign brands, in contrast, is much better.

“I bought my first Honeywell purifier for use in the office. We were renovating but we had to come to work. You know how bad the dust could be,” one buyer said.

“We can feel the difference the moment the purifier is switched on.”

“Every time I replace the filter, I know I have made the right choice.”

“I now own three Honeywell models.”

Smartphone maker Xiaomi tried to tap into the market, only to see its product rated as below standard by the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision in January, according to mainland reports.

Authorities cited problems such as too much noise and limited air processing capacity.

As always, Xiaomi’s selling point is low price.

The company is being accused of trying to ride its brand recognition, and use its internet marketing savvy, to offload subpar products.

“I don’t think Xiaomi is cheap, if you take into account the quality factor,” a netizen noted.

Overseas brands are said to have grabbed 70 percent of the China purifier market, a market worth over 20 billion yuan and growing at a rate of more than 50 percent year.

Whether it is President Xi Jinping’s supply side reform or Premier Li Keqiang’s new economy theory, they are both telling the country’s manufacturers that consumers have changed — they are wealthier and want something better.

Now it’s time for Chinese makers to ditch the me-too or me-cheaper mentality and switch to a new path.

Or else, they’ll continue to lose billions of yuan worth of business to foreign competitors.

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EJ Insight writer

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