What Do ‘Buddha Youth’ Buyers Mean to Luxury Brands?

Are some free-spending Chinese consumers becoming a little less materialistic?

Researchers and trend watchers have noticed a shift in luxury shopping behaviors and attitude, especially among a younger demographic who may not be quite as willing to splash their cash on high-end products as they once were thought to be.

One report “Understanding Chinese Millennials’ Apparel Shopping Behavior and Attitudes,” published by Fung Business Intelligence of Hong Kong in August, notes that fit, “good quality,” and “good-looking design,” are outranking “brand name/famous brand” as attributes buyers are seeking.

“Chinese millennials are still very much interested in luxury brands,” said Amrita Banta, Managing Director of Singapore-based Agility Research & Strategy. “They do want and like material things, but they don’t want to be seen as prizing the material over everything else.” Some buyers are looking more to identify with a brand than to show off that they can afford the luxury, for example.

According to Agility Research’s survey, also released in August, of affluent Chinese born 1995 to 2000, the majority claimed to be “Buddha-like,” referring to a desire to be detached from the material world. But, interestingly, over half of the surveyed respondents also said they do not view luxury as having to be material.

The shifting priorities may be closely related to the current economic situation in China. Competitive pressures have pushed some in the hyper-educated, under-employed generation to a more spiritual way of living to react to the radical changes in wealth and technology around them.

This shift in priorities is showing up in travel trends, too. According to Agility Research’s survey, a stunning 83 percent of millennials now prefer to travel solo, and while shopping is still an expected activity while traveling, it is far down the list of priorities, with museums and art (69 percent voted for it) and “explore nature” (at 61 percent surveyed) just two of the activities that outrank it.

This phenomenon was first described in 2017 a WeChat article titled “The First Group of Post-’90s  are Already Becoming Monks” that resonated with many readers. The post has become a viral hit since and inspired many to share their Zen way of living on social media, referring to themselves as “Buddha Youth” (佛系青年).

How should brands reflect this trend in their marketing strategy? Experts offer their takes: “Brands can use user-generated content as a link to fully discover consumer emotional needs and form bonds on a deeper level,” advised Chen Yini, a research consultant, in a column for consultancy group Kantar China.

Because they prefer owning something they have a deep connection to and “being in the know” over “buying for showing,” suggested Banta, “The way to engage this tribe of young people effectively is to appeal to this sense of being your own person.”


Consumer Insights, Market Analysis, Tech