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A new wave of big-spending Chinese shoppers has emerged to drive the global luxury-goods industry, igniting torrid sales growth after two years of cautious Chinese buying.
Feeling flush from a surging stock market, Chinese shoppers are splurging during trips to Europe, at home in China and increasingly online. Their desire for luxury goods has returned as concerns around an anti-corruption crackdown by the Chinese government and terror attacks in Europe have faded over the past year.
Global luxury-goods purchases by Chinese shoppers jumped 12% last year to €84 billion ($104 billion), according to consulting firm Bain & Co. Chinese consumers accounted for 32% of global luxury-goods purchases, up from 30% in 2016. Analysts expect that growth to continue this year or even accelerate.
“China has become extremely dynamic,” said Bernard Arnault, the French billionaire who is chief executive and controlling shareholder of luxury conglomerate LVMH Möet Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
On Thursday, the industry bellwether reported record revenue and profits in 2017, led by a surge in Chinese sales. Revenue for the year was €42.6 billion, up 13%, while profits rose 29%.
While megabrands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci remain among their favorites, Chinese shoppers are also exploring more niche labels such as Céline or Derek Lam.
The Chinese used to buy brands mainly for the logo. Now, they are buying logos that are in style.
On a recent morning in the Parisian department store Galeries Lafayette, Meng Xin, a pharmaceutical company employee from Beijing, was at the Céline boutique about to buy a €1,250 handbag. The brand, owned by LVMH, has a reputation for understated designs that draw from its Parisian roots. Until recently, it had little traction with Chinese consumers. But Ms. Meng said she liked the brand’s simple style.
The search for new brands reflects the changing profile of Chinese luxury shoppers, analysts and retailers say. Compared with a few years ago, they are now younger, more likely to be women and more attuned to fashion trends.
“The Chinese used to buy brands mainly for the logo,” said Alix Morabito, fashion editor at Galeries Lafayette, one of the premier destinations for Chinese shoppers. “Now, they are buying logos that are in style.”
To handle resurgent Chinese demand, Galeries Lafayette has opened a store across the street from its main location in central Paris to serve tour buses filled with Chinese shoppers. All signs are in Chinese and French. The new location is meant to free up Galeries Lafayette’s main store for more discerning Chinese customers, who usually travel in small groups of friends and family and want the time to browse before buying, said Ms. Morabito.
They don’t save as much. They live in the moment. They buy much more on impulse.
Changing demographics have helped drive the surge in spending. People born after the adoption of China’s one-child policy in 1979 account for an ever bigger share of consumers. They now have their own jobs and can draw on the resources of two parents, giving them more disposable income than their predecessors.
“These consumers are really the result of this one-child policy,” said Bruno Lannes, head of Bain & Co.’s retail consulting practice in China. “They don’t save as much. They live in the moment. They buy much more on impulse.”
In the previous decade, Chinese luxury consumption was more geared toward “gifting,” the practice of loading up on high-price watches, handbags, Cognac and other accessories that would be handed to bureaucrats and politicians to grease the wheels of business. But in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched an anti-corruption campaign to stamp out the practice. Then his government cracked down on so-called daigou, professional shoppers who buy luxury goods abroad and smuggle them back into China.
Terror attacks in Paris and other European shopping centers, combined with a weaker renminbi, dealt another blow to Chinese luxury consumption. Global luxury spending in 2016 fell for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis.
Starting a year ago, China’s luxury consumers began adjusting to the new rules. Terror fears receded, while rising stock and real-estate prices boosted their confidence. A new pattern of luxury demand emerged, according to Bain, with cosmetics, jewelry, ready-to-wear designer clothes, streetwear and lifestyle brands leading the way.
“It’s a new China, mostly millennials consuming for themselves and their friends and family,” Mr. Lannes said. “This is really the age of fashion in China.”