Luxury evolves in China

23 March 2011

BEIJING: Luxury brands could benefit from segmenting the Chinese audience into groups such as "middle class aspirants" and "fashion fanatics", a study has argued.

McKinsey, the consultancy, polled over 1,500 category shoppers in 17 first, second and third tier cites, and suggested luxury revenues should climb from an estimated 80bn yuan (€8.6bn; £7.5bn) in 2010 to 180bn yuan in 2015.

By this date, China will account for at least 20% of global expenditure and become the world's biggest market.

"China's love for luxury is rapidly trickling down to broader swathes of consumers, even those who by traditional standards would not be considered viable target consumers of luxury goods," the company said.

Factors driving this process incorporate rising affluence and urbanisation, greater access to online information, foreign travel, prior experience of acquiring premium products and the widespread use of such items as status symbols.

The number of households earning between 300,000 yuan and 1m yuan annually is expanding by 15% a year, hitting a projected 5.6m in 2015, when the amount of homes claiming even larger sums reaches 1m.

McKinsey stated these two demographics delivered 45% and 26% of luxury spending in 2010 respectively, totals set to stand at 37% and 33% in 2015.

The 76m residences collecting between 100,000 yuan and 200,000 yuan a year could supply 22% of sales by then, up ten percentage points on 2010, reflecting their willingness to "stretch budgets".

One distinct feature of the Chinese trading climate is that 73% of clients are under 45 years old, measured against just over half in the US, while 45% are under 35 years old, compared with 28% in Western Europe.

The proportion of contributors obtaining exclusive products as a "personal indulgence" has grown from 25% in 2008 to 36% today, and a majority of luxury customers like "rewarding themselves for hard work and success."

A further 64% of the survey panel believed income levels would improve in the coming five years, and nearly 50% are focusing on "enjoying life" instead of "worrying about the future".

As a result of its research, McKinsey identified four discreet types of consumer, one of which was called "luxury role models" - young, fashionable executives demanding excellent service.

Spending approximately 150,000 yuan a year, or 10% of disposable income, on top-quality lines, 71% of this cohort have been splashing out in this way for five years, easily beating a norm of 34%.

The second group, "fashion fanatics", are middle class, and allocate around 40% of their salary - generally falling between 100,000 yuan and 200,000 yuan - to luxury brands.

Characteristics of this community include a wish to learn about the latest trends, as 59% used at least three sources to gather information before choosing a handbag, surpassing the 41% average.

"Middle class aspirants" bring home between 60,000 yuan and 200,000 yuan a year, often occupy mid-level employment positions, and are drawn from second or third tier cities.

Allotting in the range of 5,000 yuan to 15,000 yuan annually to high-end brands, or 9% of earnings, purchases are usually prefaced by online research lasting up to three months, and followed by cutting back elsewhere.

Currently, "core luxury" shoppers comprise 65% of buyers, committing in the region of 12% and 20% of their salaries - lying between 20,000 yuan and 60,000 yuan - to premium offerings per year.

By 2015, "core luxury" consumers will make up 52% of category households, with "luxury role models" posting 24%, "fashion fanatics" on 7% and "middle class aspirants" registering 1%.

Data sourced from McKinsey; additional content by Warc staff