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Economy

Chinese trends of 2016 help explain economic resilience

New ideas and experiences fuel consumption and growth

Bicycle-sharing services are getting popular in China.

Everyone is worried that with the Chinese economy sneezing, the world is catching a cold. But consumption in the country remains resilient. So what is driving the growth? Let's take a look at the Chinese consumer hits of 2016.

Last year's champions were Singles' Day and 618, the two massive online sales campaigns. Although they are nothing new, last year's Singles' Day -- the Nov. 11 celebration of being single -- drew 120.7 billion yuan ($17.6 billion), a record amount of money spent within 24 hours. They surely had a big impact not only on Chinese consumers but also on the world.

Various smartphone-related businesses and services flourished last year thanks to the proliferation of the handheld devices. Two things stood out: smartphone payment systems and Chinese handsets. The former has now made its way into all corners of the country, from convenience stores to supermarkets and restaurants.

Next in the ranking are smartphone apps for delivery services and live streaming. Every day at lunchtime, rows of motorbikes are parked in front of office buildings, their drivers delivering meals. These services also created a lot of new jobs, such as all those drivers. Young people, meanwhile, suddenly took an interest in broadcasting online bits of their everyday lives using smartphones, which spawned amateur online stars called wang hong.

Just behind smartphones were two major sharing services: Mobike, a bicycle-sharing service, and ride-hailing apps. The Mobike app allows users to find rental bicycles that are available near them via smartphone. Using a QR code on the bicycle, users can unlock the key and take the bike for a ride.

Other trends focused on experiences, such as Shanghai Disney Resort, which opened in June, and Dalian Wanda Group's theme parks in inland China, among other amusement parks. Also included are multifunctional bookstores, such as Eslite bookstore, the Taiwan-based bookstore chain that promotes various cultural values on top of books, DIY, or do-it-yourself stores, virtual reality demo locations, and showrooms where consumers can experience domestic appliances and information technology products.

The rise of outlet malls and the spread of convenience stores are also worth noting. In the food industry, NFC, or not from concentrate, fruit juice and third-wave coffee also drew consumers' attention.

Anything related to smartphone apps and experiential consumption is looking likely to be popular in 2017 as well.

Kosuke Okame is a Shanghai-based business and market research consultant.

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