In recent years, the global luxury market has witnessed a seismic shift with the emergence of the affluent Chinese consumers.
Fueled by increasing affluence, changing lifestyles, and a penchant for high-quality products, Chinese consumers have become a force to be reckoned with in the luxury sector.
The Chinese Luxury Consumer Landscape
China's rapid economic growth and urbanization have led to the emergence of a new generation of affluent consumers.
This demographic shift has given rise to a robust appetite for luxury goods, and Chinese consumers are becoming increasingly discerning in their preferences. From fashion and accessories to automobiles and luxury experiences, Chinese consumers are seeking quality, exclusivity, and authenticity.
Historically, Chinese consumers have contributed to the growth of the global luxury market, domestically and internationally. Pre-pandemic, Chinese travelers were the top spenders, with over $255 billion in overseas purchases in 2019, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Now after several years after the pandemic, consumers and companies have good reason to be optimistic about China’s reopening and economic recovery.
China is posed to be the industry's growth engine and luxury brands are expected to benefit the most from this. China is expected to lift luxury good sales by 20% this year and account for 60% of spending growth by 2030. More so, retail spending is higher than pre-pandemic levels, despite the discussion about an economic slowdown in China.
According to Business of Fashion (BoF) Insights' new report, Mainland Chinese consumers are expected to spend $131 billion on luxury by 2027.
Gen Z is leading the China's Luxury Sector
Younger Chinese consumers are the leading Chinese luxury shopper today. China's “one child policy” has resulted in wealth accumulation among a smaller pool of young people, allowing individuals to inherit assets from two generations, according to an article by Chozan.
The average affluent consumer in China is 29 years old. Chinese Gen Z consumers are among the wealthiest consumer generation to ever enter the market, and are projected to have a higher desire to pay than other generations.
What sets China's Luxury Gen Z Consumers apart?
China's luxury Gen Z consumers are highly educated, digitally innovative and appeal to personalized services, authentic brand narratives, social responsibility, and celebrity endorsements.
Digitally Innovative: For China's discerning consumers, luxury is an immersive, digital oriented experience, not just a transaction.
Personalized Services: Chinese Gen Z consumers are seeking individuality and exclusivity, appreciating unique and personalized options. In the automotive industry for example, brands which have catered to consumers needs such as in car entertainment, such as Karaoke, or the increased us of a car as a protective pod during lunchtime naps, have succeeded.
Authentic Brand Narrative: Brand stories which hold a strong cultural context resonate deeply with the luxury Chinese consumer. This generation of luxury seeks authenticity.
Social Responsibility: Luxury consumers and Gen Z have shown increasing concern for environmental and social issues and seek brands which care about the same issues. Chinese affluent Gen Z consumers are a highly educated demographic who want to hold brands accountable for their societal and environmental impact.
Celebrity Endorsements: Often luxury Gen Z consumers in China are swayed through local celebrity endorsements. As a very prideful and nationalistic generation, having local celebrities is seen to increase brand appeal.
Luxury Travel and Tourism
Another major indicator of China's economic recovery is the nation's travel sector. Domestic tourism in June 2023 was 7% higher than in 2019, pre-pandemic levels. International travel in June 2023 was 58% lower than pre-pandemic levels, although the number of outbound flights from China are rising rapidly.
In 2023, roughly 110 million outbound trips were made from Mainland China, and according to the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, that number is expected to grow to 228 million by 2030.
More so, high net worth tourists from Mainland China spend more while traveling abroad than tourists from any other country, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. On average, affluent Chinese consumers spent twice as much as their counterparts from the United States.
Not only are Chinese travelers spending more, but currently only 6% of China's population holds a passport, roughly 1.4 billion people, and in the coming years, an additional 116 million Chinese citizens are expected to obtain a passport, meaning more travel and spending.
Seasonality and When the Affluent Chinese Travel
In China there are two important times of year which influence Chinese travel.
The Chinese New Year Holiday: Chinese New Year is defined by the lunar calendar, and usually takes place at the beginning of February each year.
The Golden Week Holiday: Golden Week takes place during the first week of October for a period of eight days each year.
During these two periods, there are an extraordinary amount of tourists traveling domestically and internationally. In 2017, Chinese travelers took 705 million domestic trips and 6 million international trips during the eight day period of Golden Week.
Digitally Educated Travelers
As international Chinese tourism continues to grow, luxury brands need to adjust their offerings and marketing strategies to engage with affluent Chinese consumers, as their purchase decisions are driven by different expectations.
Chinese affluent shoppers abroad are more digitally savvy and expect readily available Wi-Fi connections, mobile functionalities such as store localizations, stock availability and price transparency when traveling.
Throughout the travel experience, digital impacts play an important role before, during and after the holiday. The majority of wealthy Chinese tourists base their travel related decisions on reviews and recommendations. The most popular digital platform for travel recommendations are WeChat and user-generated content platforms like Mafangwo and Fliggy.
Luxury Shopping as Travel Motivation
One of the remarkable trends shaping the luxury market is tourism shopping. Chinese consumers are making a significant impact on the luxury sector through their shopping activities during overseas trips. This phenomenon is known as "daigou" in Chinese, referring to overseas shopping agents who purchase luxury items for consumers in China.
Chinese consumers are known for travelling internationally to shop for luxury goods, especially given the noticeable price differences between overseas and domestic luxury goods due to strict Chinese customs control, and shutting out luxury brands with high tariffs.
Luxury shopping accounts for the largest share of affluent Chinese traveler's expenditure abroad - 25% compared to 19% for accommodations and 16% for dining.
And although the demand for experiential travel is growing, luxury shopping is still a key motivation for affluent Chinese travelers. On average, affluent Chinese consumers take 5.9 international trips per year, and these high net worth individuals (HNWI) indicate shopping as a primary reason for selecting locations such as Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan as their travel destination.
In addition to luxury purchases abroad being somewhat more affordable, another reason affluent Chinese consumers purchase in Europe or the United States is due to the fact tat those goods are guarantied genuine instead of counterfeit, which is a problem for luxury brands in China.
The rise of the luxury Chinese consumer is redefining the global luxury market. The influence of tourism shopping, coupled with a booming Chinese economy and highly educated and digitally driven affluent Gen Z consumers, underscores the importance of adapting to this demographic's needs. Luxury brands that understand and cater to the evolving demands of Chinese consumers are poised to thrive in this dynamic landscape. As the world continues to witness the transformative power of the luxury Chinese consumer, collaboration and innovation will remain key to success in this burgeoning market.
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