As China’s austerity drive remains in high gear, an iPhone or iPad is now preferable to a Hermès belt or Louis Vuitton bag as a top gift item for China’s rich, according to the results of a new survey published this week.
The Hurun Report’s annual Chinese Luxury Consumer Survey, which asks some of China’s wealthiest citizens about everything from their favorite jewelry brand to preferred yacht company, found that luxury gifting declined by 5 percent in 2014 among this elite group. This marks a 30 percent total drop in two years as the Chinese government continues its crackdown on luxury “gifting” (in other words, bribery) to officials.
As the austerity age continues for the Chinese luxury industry, this is actually good news for Apple, which beat out brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Dior to become the most-desired gifting brand for both men and women. This news comes after Apple reported a jaw-dropping year-on-year quarterly growth rate of 70 percent in China this week. In addition to receiving a boost from its new agreement with China Mobile, Apple likely ascended to the top ranks due to the fact that an iPhone or iPad is relatively inconspicuous compared to a high-end watch or handbag yet remains an expensive status symbol in China. The company’s status as a “luxury” label has also increased after it gained former Burberry executive Angela Ahrendts in 2013, who was known for a strong China strategy at the British brand and has been talking up Apple’s big plans for the China market in the coming year.
China’s rich still love traditional luxury giants as well, however. Louis Vuitton did especially well with wealthy Chinese men after its push to boost its exclusivity, moving up to second place this year on their top gifting list. Meanwhile, Chanel maintained second place for women, followed by Louis Vuitton and Dior. It looks like the Hermès belts so ubiquitous among Chinese officials may finally be falling out of favor—the brand dropped down to seventh place on the men’s list this year. Despite Apple’s popularity and a rough year in the China market, high-end watches are still the top gift for Chinese men, with consumer electronics in second place. Meanwhile, jewelry and fashion dominate the top gifting categories for women.
As usual, the list was dominated by European labels, with only one Chinese brand making the list. That was baijiu producer Moutai, which landed in sixth place in 2014 after it fell out of the top 10 altogether in 2013 as fancy banquet spending dried up in China. For collectibles, however, Chinese goods are especially popular: ink paintings top the list in first place, while Chinese traditional furniture made the top 10 for the first time this year.
As previous China luxury surveys by Ruder Finn and Bain have also pointed out, China’s rich loved to travel in 2014. Their favorite location was Australia, which retained its number one position from last year—which is likely due not only to its close proximity to China, but also to a strong interest in buying Australian real estate among China’s rich. France continues to fascinate China’s rich with a second-place ranking, while beach vacation spot the Maldives rose to third place this year.
In another sign that luxury retailers across the world need to do everything they can to gear up for Chinese New Year, the survey respondents listed Chinese New Year holiday period as their top time to travel, followed by October’s Golden Week and the summer. Asian-branded luxury hotels continue to take the global lead worldwide: The Peninsula dominates as their favorite place to stay, followed by the Mandarin Oriental, which both pulled ahead of Shangri-La this year.