Three major trends are shaping China’s luxury market today: expansion of luxury brands into everyday categories, increased attention towards niche brands and personalization, and “normalization” of online sales of luxury goods.
On August 21st, CBNData and Tmall published a report entitled “Luxury Consumption Trends in the Era of New Retail, 2017”. Using Alibaba’s consumer data to analyze consumption patterns, the report highlights several trends in changing luxury consumer demographics as well as showing the changing ways that luxury brands pursue consumers in China.
Between 2014 and 2016, the number of luxury brands using online sales channels has continuously increased; by 2021, online sales are expected to account for 13% of the luxury goods market.
Changing consumer demographics…
It considers young consumers, consumers from small cities, and cost-conscious consumers to be the up and coming forces driving growth in luxury consumption.
The generations known in China as the “post-90’s” and “post-95’s” are now a major market for luxury goods, and increasingly the primary targets of marketing campaigns by major players. There has been steady growth in the numbers and purchasing power of the post-90 generation since 2013, and the past few years have seen a rapid expansion of the post-95’s online presence.
Residents in the increasingly prosperous smaller cities, with lower costs of living and fewer pressures to save, are entering the market en masse, making up an ever-larger portion of consumers. Online sales of luxury goods have driven their penetration into second- and third-tier cities and rural markets where few have an offline presence.
In 2015, the size of the average luxury purchase by consumers in third- through sixth-tier cities surpassed the average for first- and second-tier cities. At the same time, the ten cities with the highest growth in luxury consumption are almost uniformly third-tier and lower. High-end cosmetics and watches are particularly explosive markets in smaller cities.
Consumers generally fall into three categories: “quality of life” consumers, mass consumption consumers, and price-conscious consumers; price-conscious consumers are coming to the forefront as the generations born after 1970 and 1980 settle into family life and more closely consider how to spend their larger disposable incomes.
In recent years luxury goods brands have effectively pursued the latter two markets, increasing their market share in those demographics. However, marked differences remain between each group’s purchasing habits; cost-conscious luxury consumers embrace brands with an image of utility (ex. Tissot) and up-and-coming brands, while “quality of life” consumers remain focused on household names such as Burberry.
… and new market trends…
At the same time, it shows that three major trends are shaping the market today: expansion of luxury brands into everyday categories, increased attention towards niche brands and personalization, and “normalization” of online sales of luxury goods.
Luxury brands have “infiltrated” certain sectors to the point where they account for significant portions of daily spending; from 2013, the share of skincare product sales held by luxury brands has continuously increased, while luxury brands now account for more than 40% of all watches and alcoholic beverages sold. Luxury goods, in these sectors, are no longer conspicuous consumption; they’re just consumption.
“Luxury” is no longer synonymous with “LV, Gucci, and Hermes”; rather, Chinese consumers are increasingly aware of niche brands which more closely match their needs and preferences. When entering the market many brands choose to list on Tmall and other e-commerce platforms to increase visibility and attract younger consumers.
In years prior, Singles’ Day events provided a huge boost to luxury goods sales; in the past two years that effect has become less pronounced, as luxury goods have become a more “normalized” part of people’s everyday consumption patterns
… are changing the luxury goods market
These three trends are improving customer experiences and quality assurance to further drive movement of consumers to e-commerce, making new retail formats the preferred choice for luxury consumption. Luxury brands are working to more finely target smaller markets, with goods that will fill gaps in their everyday lives, through online channels.
Other trends affecting the market include gradual reductions in tariffs for imported luxury goods, relaxation of import regulations, and global pricing strategies on the part of major brands, all reducing the appetite for grey market goods or those purchased while traveling abroad.
One result is that the flow of luxury spending abroad is gradually coming back to China, with part of the 600 billion yuan (US$90.2 billion) currently spent by Chinese abroad on luxury goods shifting to domestic e-commerce platforms.