With observers of China's luxury market looking for signs of a rebound this spring, following muted growth in the second half of 2012, early indications are already pointing to a better year ahead for some brands. Despite a much-publicized crackdown on conspicuous consumption by the central government in Beijing, mainland Chinese consumers are showing up in growing numbers in their old haunts, most notably Hong Kong luxury boutiques. Coming off a tougher summer -- during which mainland Chinese tourist-shoppers either held back or did more of their high-end shopping on vacations in Europe, South Korea, or North America -- Hong Kong retailers recorded a 13.7 percent increase in sales of jewelry and watches after a 2.9 percent decline in October. According to Bloomberg, given the backdrop of the onset of China's leadership transition last fall, some luxury brands are betting that Chinese spending will take off again around Chinese New Year.
Though the year is only a couple of weeks old, positive signs are already emerging that brands may indeed see a brighter 2013. Earlier this month,
-- which currently operates around 60 locations in mainland China -- announced plans to increase its stake in China joint ventures for distribution from 50 to 75 percent over the course of 2013. This, as the AP pointed out, follows recent agreements with the Hong Kong-based brand management and distribution company Imaginex Holdings as well as Imaginex Overseas. In the year ahead, we expect to see Ferragamo's prospects in China boosted by the brand's growing presence in second- and third-tier cities. Even if consumers in top-tier cities hold back, or do a significant amount of high-end shopping online or overseas, the changing tastes of inland consumers could be a very good development for the Italian brand. Salvatore Ferragamo CEO Michele Norsa said this week that he expects a "positive" 2013, helped by demand from Chinese, as well as Latin American, consumers in the year ahead.
Another brand that has long been popular with China's corporate ladder-climbing male demographic,
, is also poised for a better 2013, having seen demand snap back in the fourth quarter of last year. According to CEO Ermenegildo Zegna, “The slowdown in China lasted for about a quarter,” with the company buoyed by consumption in smaller cities that continue to outperform Beijing and Shanghai. Added Zegna, "Overall, I hear good news from other brands too in China.” Via Bloomberg:
Chinese travellers, motivated by large price differentials and favorable exchange rates, contribute about a third of luxury sales in Europe, Fujimori estimates. Overall, tourists account for 40 percent of global luxury spend, according to Bain & Co. Zegna said he expects that rate to increase.
The closely-held clothier plans to open about 30 stores in 2013, a third of which will be in China with the rest in Latin America, the U.S., Europe and Africa, Zegna said. At least two of the openings will be in Australia, where the company is taking control of its distribution as incomes rise and the country becomes “the California of Asia,” or a holiday destination for people from the region, the CEO said.
Zegna is forecasting revenue growth of less than 10 percent this year, excluding currency swings, a prediction the CEO said is “conservative.” Worldwide luxury expenditure will advance 7 percent in 2013, according to Boston Consulting Group.
In China, sales may rise by a low double-digit percentage, the executive said. Growth in the country is becoming tougher to achieve, and also more costly, because of greater competition and an increasingly sophisticated consumer, meaning brands need to invest more to attract demand, Zegna said.
On the luxury e-commerce front, following a highly contentious 2012 it appears that leaders are finally starting to solidify their positions while some newcomers are already off to positive starts. Jing Daily's prediction that full-price, O2O models will be the ones to watch in 2013 is playing out as international players such as
-- via its new Chinese-language e-commerce site (a partnership with Glamour Sales Holding) -- ramp up efforts. Stocking major luxury brands as well as niche designers otherwise difficult to find in China, Neiman Marcus is particularly confident about its China expansion. As group rep Chris Luan told Jing Daily last summer, "Chinese customers are growing increasingly savvy about luxury goods and there’s surging demand in the Chinese market for a website that brings to life the multi-brand, high-service, luxury retail experience provided by Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman."
Another e-commerce powerhouse to watch closely in China this year is
, which acquired the Chinese members-only discount e-tailer Shouke.com for £6.6 million (US$10.6 million) last spring and, shortly thereafter, launched a Chinese version of its “Outnet,” offering a higher-end set of designers and labels as well as discounted items. As Vogue notes this week, since making its first moves into the Chinese luxury market last year, Net-A-Porter's expansion has "led to the company doubling its employee number and a sales increase - £238 million ($382 million) to £368 million ($591 million)."