With increased economic independence translating into greater spending power, women in China are catching up with their male counterparts as consumers of luxury goods, a speaker told the annual China Luxury Summit in Shanghai on Thursday.
Interestingly enough, as incomes rise and the middle class expands, research indicates that shoppers in Shanghai are increasingly turning up their noses at luxury goods, while consumers in second-tier cities can't get enough.
"Men have been the traditional buyers, and in 2001, three out of four consumers were men," said Emmanuel Prat, president of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world's biggest luxury goods group with products ranging from perfume to champagne.
"But now, as women are becoming more economically independent, they account for a larger share of the luxury market and there is big potential," he said.
A survey by consultants KPMG, Australia's Monash University and market research firm TNS found young Chinese women are beginning to supplant businessmen aged over 35 as the main Chinese buyers of luxury goods.
"Until recently, 90 percent of all luxury spending in China was dictated by men ... The modern female luxury shopper includes the businesswoman, the celebrity and the newly independent rich wife," the survey found.
More significant to industry watchers, the survey also found that respondents from Shanghai, long known for its conspicuous consumption, had now become "the most cynical in their attitudes to luxury and the least likely to own luxury brands as a status symbol."
Almost 70 percent of respondents from medium-sized cities saw people who own luxury brands as successful, compared to less than 55 percent in Shanghai.
The luxury market in China - now the world's third-largest consumer of luxury goods after Japan and the US - is expected to grow 20 percent annually until 2008, and then 10 percent a year until 2015 when sales will exceed US$11.5 billion, the survey estimated.
By that time, China would consume just under a third of the world's total luxury goods.
Calvin Klein, which sells high-end perfume and clothes, is one of many foreign luxury firms looking to expand its presence in China's second-tier cities, company president Tom Murry said on the sidelines of the event.
"While the affluence is growing quickly, it's still a relatively small population that can consume a luxury product, so we'll see that continue to grow over time," Murry added.
(Shanghai Daily November 6, 2006)