After years of chasing the mythical wealthy Chinese consumers, Western luxury retailers start to leave China

dunhill store asiaFamous luxury brands have dreamed on the Chinese market for the last twenty years. Ignoring common sense (China remains, per capita, one of the poorest country in the World), they decided to open massively luxury retail stores chasing the mythical wealthy Chinese consumer.

It’s time for a reality check.

China has recorded the most number of closures of luxury stores between July 2016 and July 2017, the latest report by the investment research and management company Bernstein shows. The report, titled “Store Wars,” based its findings on Bernstein’s tracking of about 7,000 stores referring to 36 luxury brands including big names such as Burberry, Saint Laurent, and Céline. Burberry and Dunhill had the most store closures in China of all the brands during that period.
China has seen 62 net closures of luxury brand stores during the surveyed period, the largest number observed by Bernstein among all significant geographies. The firm viewed the trend as a revision of the over-expansion, in previous years, of luxury brands into the Chinese market.

The rapid development of the country’s luxury industry fueled by affluent Chinese consumers has given luxury brands unrealistic projections of retail sales in the past. This over-estimation, according to Bernstein, has led them to aggressively open retail stores in China that exceeds consumers’ real purchasing power. The same situation occurs in the Middle East region, another area where luxury consumption is rising fast.
Globally, the number of the net store openings by luxury brands has also for the first time run into the negative territory. The report said most brands have more or less closed some of their stores in the department stores, a traditional channel that accounts for about one-third of these brands’ global sales.

Chinese consumers have demonstrated some remarkedly different purchasing behaviours from that of the West. According to Pierre Gervois, a leading expert about wealthy Chinese travelers’ shopping behavior, and founder of the prestigious STC magazine “Western luxury brands have been warned since 2010 that their projections about affluent Chinese consumers were grossly exaggerated.” “Brands refused to acknowledge that their future Chinese customers would buy in overseas stores  rather than in domestic stores, both for tax reasons but also because of the poor customer service in their Chinese stores”, Gervois added.

The really affluent Chinese consumers (as affluent as an average U.S. or Western Europe consumer) massively choose not to purchase in Chinese stores, neither online in China.  They choose deliberately to purchase overseas, as a sign of social status.

Another distinguishing habit that sets Chinese luxury consumers apart from Westerners is their huge interest in buying luxury items online. Over the past year, an increasing number of luxury brands have embraced the e-commerce marketplace and launched stores with the country’s top two players, Alibaba and JD. Moreover, big names like Louis Vuitton and Gucci even opened their own Chinese e-commerce stores to ensure their offerings meet the expectations of Chinese consumers. And then there’s the nature of luxury itself, the meaning of which is different to younger consumers from what it was to their forebears.

Another concern that Western brands cannot officially recognize in China, is that a growing part of affluent millennials Chinese are moving from government-censored social media (WeChat, Weibo…) to Facebook and Twitter throughout an increasing use of VPN’s. That makes much less relevant their communications campaigns on Chinese networks.

Source:  Chinese Tourists Blog / JingDaily Blog / Bain / Bernstein

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Chinese shoppers are heavily influenced by luxury lifestyle publications

Industry insiders said that China’s buyers of luxury goods are young – and with a lack of taste.

According to research from the Hong Kong Institute of Fashion Buying, China’s consumers of luxury and high fashion are between 20 and 50 years old. In contrast, luxury consumers in Japan are mainly between 40 and 60 years old.

“‘One-off consumption’ and ‘purchasing on a sudden impulse’ are the characteristics of young Chinese fans of luxury fashion,” said Gan Jing, a consultant from the Hong Kong Institute of Fashion Buying.

A survey by McKinsey & Co also showed that Chinese buyers of luxury goods are younger. The survey said some 73 percent of Chinese luxury goods buyers are aged 45 and younger, while that number is 50 percent in the United States.

And youth, sometimes, is associated with ignorance. Helen Wu, editor of an entertainment TV program in Shanghai, said: “Chinese consumers do not have good taste in luxury consumption. They buy things just because a magazine or luxury website told them it is worth buying.”

But this is good news for magazines and websites that promote luxury goods and the elite lifestyle.

Liu Jin, a 30-year-old man who works for a luxury magazine focusing on cars in Shanghai, said people are eager to acquire information about luxury goods.

“We used to send magazines to our potential consumers for free four years ago, but the marketing strategy has changed. We’ve found an increasing number of people are willing to pay for magazines with luxury consumer information,” Liu said.

A news vendor on Fuwai Street in Beijing said that magazines about luxury trends are priced up to 25 yuan ($3.80), while news magazines usually cost 10 yuan.

“But fashion magazines are easier to sell, and I never need to worry about that,” he said. In cyberspace, there are now more than 60 luxury websites operating in China, though there were none a few years ago. Even on Twitter “officially” banned in China (but still widely used by the Chinese elite), young and affluent Chinese shoppers have their own Twitter account @niuyuemag  about luxury shopping trends in New York City!

As young people like online shopping, luxury goods retailers are building more websites to facilitate purchases. In March, Burberry, a luxury British brand, launched its online shopping website for Chinese consumers, media reports said.