19
Dec
2013

Chinese consumers need to drop their guard

I have just been watching a TV programme about the British luxury store Liberty situated on London’s Regents Street during which I saw a woman buying cushions for her new home. Her heart was lifted by the choices she made and she explained that she just wanted to make her new place warm and cosy, which many of us will understand and probably have been shopping for similar reasons in the past.

There was nothing unusual about what I saw; it was the sort of process that most of us would consider normal; that was until I thought about the Chinese luxury consumers and their approach to making purchases. This particular lady paid about £400 for three cushions and felt that she had earned the money and should treat herself. Her manner and the way she spoke told me that she would get so much pleasure from them, that the money which may well have been a stretch for her, was a great lifestyle choice.

If I compare this attitude with that of the Chinese consumer that I see and speak to regularly, they don’t buy for personal pleasure, few will buy luxury items for their home that others may not see, and all have little real emotional connection to their purchases. For them, £400 is probably not that an impressive a figure to spend and tell your friends about. Cushions are too discrete and the brands name or identity is unlikely to bring with it any social capital. This isn’t to say that the Chinese luxury consumer isn’t learning and developing a more personal taste in luxury, but their starting point is very different from that most of us would expect.

In some ways I feel sorry for the Chinese consumer, saddened by the missing emotions that I would love them to identify with. Its not their fault, its in the DNA of the country and its people to show less emotion and passion for each other and what they do, but they are missing out on something wonderful. Having said this, Christmas has in recent years begun to influence the younger generations and those born in the 80’s onwards. They feel the romance and warmth of the festive season and see it as a time to relax and enjoy the company of their friends, but they haven’t yet got to the point of letting down their emotional barriers publically yet.

I firmly believe that over the coming few years, we will see more Chinese both at home and overseas buying the things they like and that touch their hearts rather than what they think others will approve of. These are caring people who just need to learn to embrace what they feel inside and not worry what others think of them, because in fact their friends and those closest to them will admire and respect them even more for letting their guard down and showing the courage of their convictions.

Ken Grant
Ken is the publisher of Luxury Insights China, he is regularly asked for his comments and opinions of the luxury sector in China by the media, and speaks at conferences on the subject. His international marketing experience covers 25 years, and most territories of the world.

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