Conspicuous Chinese Consumers

A recent visit to France was quite revealing in the context of something I had written last year. While at IPS, I authored the Policy Perspectives chapter of the annual State of the Economy (SOE) report a couple of times and in last year’s edition on ‘Rising Asia‘ I had written about consumption in Asia and by Asians. In it, I highlighted that,

The rise in wealth and affluence in Asia is startling, but not surprising given the rapid growth seen there. Industry estimates suggest that Chinese consumers lap up 10% of worldwide luxury sales and East Asian shoppers account for between one-fourth and half of all purchases at designer stores in Europe.

 

During the recent France visit, I saw this in action and it was both revealing and a bit overwhelming.  Chinese tourists were everywhere. Hundreds and hundreds of them. And they were shopping in designer and luxury stores – handbags, shoes, pens, chocolates, watches – like there was no tomorrow.

 

Out of curiosity (rather than to actually shop!) I spent a lot of time observing the stores. In every designer store in Paris, at least one in every three people was Chinese. Despite much being said about India’s rising consumption, middle class, and brand consciousness there were hardly any Indians, let alone South Asians.

 

At nearly every Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Burberry, Longchamps, Coach, Chloe, Mont Blanc store there were long queues to get in to the store. And in these queues I could count at least 7 in every 10 were Chinese and another 2 from other East and South East Asian origin. There would be security and a ‘velvet rope’ outside the store to let in a limited number of people at any one time. Some LV stores have introduced a policy of limiting the number of purchases per tourist (blatantly aimed at Chinese tourist shoppers!). So it’s not unusual to see Chinese women offering money to locals or to others – like my wife and I, who were looking around but not buying – to buy stuff for them. Nearly all of them were buying designer handbags, and particularly the items that had the logo (“LV” “Coach”) displayed very conspicuously.

 

What was also quite revealing was that at some of the higher-end malls like Carousel Louvre, almost all the designer outlets have several Chinese staff – a clever move by these stores given that the majority of shoppers were from China. I saw this in Geneva, Switzerland as well, particularly in the watch and chocolate stores.

 

For these Chinese (and East Asian in general) consumers, it is increasingly about aspiring to the Western lifestyle, which they can increasingly well afford. It is also that they were keen to purchase items that would conspicuously showcase the designer brand, and through it, conspicuously showcase their affluence. But I think it’s also about their search for authenticity – there’s such a huge influx of counterfeit goods in Chinese markets that they are desperate to buy the ‘real thing’ and at source – for instance, buying a Longchamps bag from a Longchamps store in its city of origin, Paris.

 

Chinese staff and shoppers at a designer store, Carousel Louvre mall, Paris. September 2015. Image by author.

Shoppers queue outside Louis Vuitton store, Galeries Lafayette, Paris. September 2015. Image by author.

Chinese shoppers at Chloe store, Carousel Louvre mall, Paris. October 2015. Image by author.

Chinese sales assistant at Coach store, Galeries Lafayette, Paris. September 2015. Image by author.

IMG_3666

Queues outside Chanel store, Galeries Lafayette, Paris. October 2015. Image by author.

 

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