Recent consumer surveys show that Chinese shoppers are more focused on premium everyday necessities, which is influencing how they make purchasing decisions abroad. A survey conducted by the FTConfidential Research unit at the Financial Times found that Chinese shoppers are more likely to avoid discretionary spending, especially when it comes to high-end fashion accessories like handbags, jewelry, and watches. This marks what the FT calls an “upheaval” in consumer spending patterns overseas, which is happening in tandem with changing habits at home.
According to an article published in FT last month, there was “a 10.2 per cent year-on-year growth in retail sales in the first two months of the year, down from a full-year 10.7 per cent in 2015 and 12 per cent in 2014.” Their survey asked 1,318 overseas Chinese tourists about their spending habits, and while they reported “they were less likely than previously to buy big-ticket items such as luxury handbags, jewelry and watches while traveling abroad,” they expressed interest in spending on cosmetics, clothing, electronics, and souvenirs, similar to results from a year before.
FT’s explanation for the reduced discretionary spending on high-end items like jewelry, watches, and handbags abroad is, in part, the rising reliance on cross-border e-commerce coupled with the fact that domestic prices for these goods are not as high as before. But the playing field is ever-changing—tax hikes on cross-border e-commerce announced early this month have thrown luxury industry professionals and shoppers for a loop.
Still, when Chinese shop abroad, they are increasingly focused on a different type of shopping spree. This includes an emphasis on looking for homegrown luxury brands, such as Coach in the United States, according to a recent survey. But with a bigger focus on health and quality products domestically, Chinese shoppers are also searching out more premium everyday necessities that are difficult to come by at home, and some of these shopping patterns are also molded by the latest safety concerns and unmet demands for new lifestyle trends.
After Chinese New Year, Xinhua reported on some of the most coveted items for Chinese consumers, broken down according to the various regions they were traveling to. To mitigate safety concerns, Chinese shoppers were buying items like high-end rice and sanitary pads in Japan—many consumers don’t trust the ones at home, as reports surfaced two years ago that some pads made in China contained a chemical that causes cancer. Chinese shoppers also bought condoms manufactured by the leading Japanese brand Okamoto, dodging the fakes pervading the market in China.
Meanwhile, Chinese consumers are seeking out products that will meet heightened standards for health and wellness, like protein powder from the United States. The Wall Street Journal said GNC’s sales rose almost 43 percent last year as an interest in hitting the gym swept Chinese shoppers. Chinese consumers are also buying more electric toothbrushes—a favorite purchase in Europe according to the Xinhua survey—and taking advantage of access to basic over-the-counter health care products like painkillers and vitamins in Japan. In Australia, a Chinese firm acquired supplement maker Swisse Wellness in part due to huge demand from overseas Chinese travelers.
These shifting shopping strategies are propelled by a group of outbound tourists whose spending outside of China is quickly rising (they spent $215 billion last year, up from $140 billion the year before), and overseas brands are clearly taking note.