The rise of the Chinese consumer

From Sydney to San Francisco, Singapore to Saigon; all around the world you will find blossoming cities and suburbs influenced by Chinese culture.

What once was simply an orchestral piece inspired by the unique and often subtle notes of the Chinese people, is fast becoming a concerto, composed specifically for this solo instrument.

Not long ago, the impact of large numbers of Chinese immigrants on most Western countries was limited to aesthetically unique buildings, small suburban ghettos where one would hear Mandarin and Cantonese being exchanged in friendly conversation or passionate haggling of smallgoods and the gastronomic delicacies experienced at a Yum Cha table or the local Chinese restaurant.

Today, the impacts are far greater and more profound. Our economy and job market has been influenced by it. Our booming property market is fuelled by it and big business is undeniably aware of it.

We are in fact witnessing the most rapid and somewhat incredible rise of the Chinese consumer and this was made most evident to me on my recent trip to Shanghai.

Wow! To say that I was utterly dumbfounded is most definitely an understatement.

My first impression on arriving in Shanghai was clearly that this city was not for slackers. People work hard and play hard. They move fast and stay busy. Patience is in short supply. Well-groomed businessmen walk down the streets clamouring on their smart phones. Alongside them you’ll see a young woman hauling a cart full of vegetables and grains down the road with enviable determination.

If there is one particular attitude that describes the people in China, I’d say it’s the seriousness of purpose that is brought to their work and their play. Trust me – shopping for luxury brands in China is serious business and always has a purpose behind it. Whether it be for ‘face’ or frivolity.

The rise of the Chinese consumer cannot be underestimated. A recent news item on CNN claimed the Chinese economy had slowed to a roaring 8%. Nonetheless, the country is still producing more millionaires a day than anywhere else on the planet. I think I saw more thousand-dollar handbags slung over designer-dressed girl’s shoulders in the streets of Shanghai than in New York, Paris and Milan combined.

“Monthly wages in China have risen by an average of nearly 12% a year in real terms over the past five years”, claims Victoria Lai, editor of Access China at The Economist Intelligence Unit. “In that time, you’ve also seen a 40% spike in investments in retail. That’s not for retail to be exported. It’s for Chinese consumers”, she said.

Young, single, working women or xiaobailing (white-collar princesses) are arguably the fastest-growing consumer class in China, perhaps the world. Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian recently, “They have high levels of disposable income and a craving for designer labels. For marketing moguls, they are the future face of consumer power.” I also had the pleasure of witnessing them in action as they shopped in high-end stores such as LV, Christian Dior and Gucci, while lines of women stood outside waiting to enter as they could not keep up with demand and capacity.

One thing is for sure. China’s time has arrived. And the rise of the Chinese consumer is creating major ripples around the globe.

Apart from singlehandedly delivering the world from recession, the Chinese consumer is re-shaping the way countries like Australia manage domestic trade, property and economic legislation. Marketers too are now grappling with how to effectively reach this new, rapidly growing, cashed-up and aspiring consumer in an attempt to grow their own market share. Exciting times are ahead.

By Daniel Assaf

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