BEIJING: Retail sales in China grew at a slower rate in March than the first two months of the year, but at the same time an official noted consumers shifting away from the bottom end of the market.

According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, retail sales rose 10.2% in the last month of the quarter, compared to 10.7% in the first two (and 12% for the whole of 2014), leaving overall Q1 growth at 10.6%, Xinhua reported.

Rural retail sales were increasing faster than those in urban areas, at 11.6% compared to 10.4%, reflecting disparities in income growth: per capita disposable income for rural people was up 10% in this period, while that for urban residents rose 8.3%.

Online retail sales of goods and services continued to grow strongly, at 41.3% in Q1, but this was down on the 2014 annual figure of 49.7%.

Sheng Laiyun, a spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics, felt that consumption patterns were shifting, with people more willing to buy high-end products and services.

"We have never lacked areas for consumption growth, the problem is how to fully achieve that potential," he said.

At the top end of the market, however, some participants have bemoaned the "democratisation of luxury" and the encroachment of premium brands into their territory, arguing that this creates confusion for buyers.

One panellist in a discussion reported by Campaign Asia-Pacific also accused luxury brands of having "grown fat and lazy" during the years of double-digit growth and not being prepared to cope with the new normal of single-digit growth.

China's economic future may include a round of job cuts, according to the South China Morning Post, which noted that China had recorded its slowest quarterly growth in six years – the 7% for Q1 is the same as the annual target of the year – and warned that any further slowing could lead to job losses as companies tackled high financing costs.

Data sourced from Xinhua, Campaign Asia-Pacific, South China Morning Post; additional content by Warc staff