BEIJING: Young female professionals are among the main contributors to improving sales levels in many product categories in China, and most intend to keep spending during 2010.

While consumers in the world's most populous nation are often regarded as being more conservative in their shopping habits than their counterparts in markets like the US, this situation may be changing.

The China Market Research Group has predicted that retail sales in the rapidly-growing economy will post an uptick in the 16% to 18% range over the course of this year.

Alongside people living in smaller, third-and-fourth tier cities, many women are expected to heighten their outlay compared with the previous 12 months.

Based on a survey of female shoppers aged 22–32 years old, CMRG found that 80% of participants plan to increase their expenditure in the January to June period from the second half of 2009.

Shaun Rein, managing director of the company, said "women have become a major driving force behind China's economic growth. Consumers under 32 have an effective savings rate of zero."

He added that the young, professional women who spend almost their entire salary each month, known as the "yue guang zu", have not been impacted by the recession thus far.

"They display a level of optimism unheard of in the west. It's simply assumed that your life will be better than your parents'. I don't know anyone who doesn't think that."

Many members of this demographic are thought to live at home, with their families meeting many of their basic financial needs, meaning they are able to splash out on goods such as premium cosmetics.

The growing availability of credit cards in China has also encouraged this trend, with 175.2 million cards active as of September 2009, up by a third year-on-year.

However, this still equates to only 0.13 cards per person, measured against figures of 0.99 in the UK and 2.06 in the US, Codifis, the consumer finance firm, has estimated.

Moreover, Tom Doctoroff, ceo, Greater China, of JWT, suggested that the purchase behaviour observable among this cohort may be more pragmatic than it first seems.

"Investing in brands is an investment in the future," he argued, as acquiring high-end shoes, apparel and accessories is "expected to open doors" to improved career prospects in the longer term.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff