White Collar Workers Mad For Luxury; But Will They Squeeze LV, Gucci Out Of Top-Tier Markets?

MSN China Portal Survey Finds 38% Of Beijingers Regularly Buy Luxury Products, More Than Shanghai Or Guangzhou

New department stores like Lane Crawford in Beijing have increased the number of luxury brands available to potential buyers in Beijing

New department stores like Lane Crawford in Beijing have increased the number of luxury brands available to potential buyers in Beijing

A new survey on MSN’s China portal (Chinese), conducted in cooperation with the Chinese online research and consulting firm iResearch, has found that a growing number of white collar workers in top-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou regularly buy luxury products, reflecting the increased buying power and changing consumption patterns of younger consumers. According to the survey, around a third of consumers in top-tier cities purchase luxury goods on a “regular basis,” with Beijingers leading the pack. From China Daily:

The MSN China survey showed more than 30 percent of the surveyed white-collar workers in the capital buy premium-brand cosmetics and 20 percent own at least one Louis Vuitton bag.

Liu Shu, chief editor and executive producer of MSN China Portal, said 38 percent of Beijingers are regular customers of luxury products, higher than 37.3 percent in Shanghai and 33 percent in Guangzhou.

She revealed that almost 63 percent of Beijing white-collar workers buy luxury cosmetics, 48 percent purchase luxury bags, 45 percent wear luxury watches, and 40 percent have premium-brand clothing.

The China Daily article goes on to quote a young woman in Beijing, who says she owns a number of Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags, but no longer favors these brands because they’ve become “too common.” More than the figure about white collar workers regularly purchasing luxury brands, this is the aspect of the MSN survey that most intrigues the Jing Daily team.

If, as a growing number of articles on Chinese luxury and fashion blogs write, “big brands” like LV and Gucci are falling out of favor in top-tier cities — which we agree they clearly are — then what brands are stepping in to cater to the younger, more brand-savvy and worldly consumers who have moved on?

Late last year, Tyler Brule, publisher and editor-in-chief of Monocle, said that European luxury brands — by catering to the China market — were at risk of alienating their core (e.g., European) clientele. Although the basis of his argument — that non-Chinese consumers are the key focus of European luxury brands right now — is highly arguable, considering the world’s two largest luxury markets are Japan and China, it does lead us to an interesting thought.

If, as Brule says, adding “a little bit of jingle-jangle to their bags and a few shiny zippers and buckles to their shoes” is the way European luxury brands localize for the Chinese luxury market, and if regular buyers of luxury goods (the aforementioned white collar consumers in top-tier cities) are losing interest in these localized products — because they’re “too common” — then it really is crunch time in China for the world’s top luxury brands.

They’re going to have to figure out what’s most important to them: faster expansion into second- and third-tier cities (where for the majority of the population these products are highly exclusive, and brand awareness is comparatively quite low) at the risk of alienating top-tier customers and “biting the hand that feeds,” or toning down their designs and/or employing a “tiered” system within China. (With top-tier cities getting the newest designs at the same time as Europe, North America and Japan and smaller cities getting cheaper or more obviously localized — in Brule’s sense of the word — products.)

Though it’s hard to tell what the future holds for “common” luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci in China’s top-tier cities, for all we know they could be too busy counting the money they’re raking in from their newest locations to care. Though, as the MSN China survey notes, Beijingers are the most frequent buyers of luxury goods in the country, Beijing’s luxury malls and boutiques are notorious for being mostly empty, functioning more as a showroom than a store. Clearly top-tier buyers are getting these high-priced items somewhere, and that somewhere is usually in Hong Kong or overseas, or online.

So for the world’s largest luxury brands, perhaps refocusing their energy on building footholds in smaller cities — where they’ve got a “captive audience” that rarely travels overseas for shopping excursions (though online shopping is popular throughout China) — takes precedence over coddling Beijing or Shanghai’s antsy, budding sophisticates.

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