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Challenges Magazine – Luxury Sales Overcomes Anti-corruption Measures in China

Campaigns against valuable gifts and purchases paralyze apparatchiks. But consumption patterns evolve.

Galeries Lafayette Beijing

Galeries Lafayette, Beijing. The well-known Parisian department store opened in mid-October occupying more than 30,000 square meters of retail space. Evidence shows that large luxury groups still rely on the Chinese market.

How much bribes, kickbacks, and gifts in kind are received annually by China’s officials, politicians and managers of state companies? Answer: it amounts to a mountain full of cash. In 2011, China’s central bank estimated, the sums diverted over the last twenty years summed up to more than 95 billion euros, so about 5 billion a year. Staggering.

Former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao noted that this evil has become “the greatest threat to the ruling party”, and its new leader Xi Jinping expressed that this is a war with no rest towards the millions of corrupt members. The system executives are banned from purchasing jewelry, high-end wine, and luxury leather goods with public funds. Also, they are barred from receiving presents with high monetary value, even though gifting is fundamentally rooted in the culture of the country and its business practices.

All that glitters and blings have been suppressed and perceived as a disgrace due to the new government regulations that have been passed recently. Even ministers store their gold watches – accessories they are crazy about, which represents 40% of Chinese luxury goods – on field trips to keep a low profile. A watchword against luxury already arises for large international brands, while China is expected to account in 2015 at least one third of the global market, estimated at nearly $ 175 billion, according to a study by McKinsey.

Previous drop in sales

During the Chinese New Year in February, a few months after the official launch of the anti-corruption campaign, “luxury goods spending dropped to $830 million, or – 53% compared to the previous year,” says Patrice Nordey, CEO of VELVET GROUP, a digital consulting agency based in Shanghai.

“Receptions and banquets have been cancelled, leaders have been indicted, Rolex watches and ostentatious Hermes hand bags have been banished from the media landscape. The anti-corruption campaign has had a real and noticeable effect on the sales of the luxury groups”.

However, most officials refuse to make a connection between this campaign and the fall of their sales.

“In reality, the slowing down already started since 2010, which was well before the anti-corruption measures. We observe a general slowing down in the growth of the luxury retail market in China, from an 18 % growth in the first quarter of 2010 to a less than 14 % growth in the first quarter of 2013”, adds Patrice.

Consequences: after years of strong growth over the last decade, large luxury conglomerates like LVMH and Kering select their new store locations more carefully within the 3000 shopping centers in the country and have taken measures to completely freeze new settlements stores.

Democratized consumption

Should we be alarmed that French houses rely on China as a growth driver? Not necessarily. Evidence shows that the dynamic is still there. Galeries Lafayette has just opened a store dedicated to fashion that covers 30,000 square meters in one of Beijing’s most popular neighborhoods near  Shin Kong Place, the luxury hotel in the created from scratch in 2007. This is the place to be. Chanel, Gucci, Prada , Armani, Italian and French ready-to-wear brands, more than 900 premium brands, the greatest wine brands in the world , rivers of diamonds … all this has generated a turnover of 6.5 billion Yuan (780 million Euros) in 2011. This has made it the most profitable luxury shopping area (excluding real estate and automobile) in the country. Nick Debnam, Asia-Pacific president of consumer markets with KPMG branch, expresses that the luxury sector “is not in recession,” despite a slowdown.

Online Sales Luxury Market China

In 2015, Online sales is expected to represent 10% of the luxury market in China (Source: iResearch).

“The growth drivers are still there and consumption patterns are changing,” he insists. In fact, luxury is no longer reserved for only Party apparatchiks or large fortune makers in the country. Nearly three-quarters of the 80 million Chinese tourists who travel the world each year now return with luxury purchases which they buy at a price 20-30% cheaper than in China. Their favorite shopping destinations include Hong Kong, Japan, Switzerland and France. The average Chinese consumer’s shopping expense has increased to 1,500 euros, which is far higher than that of the Russians and Indians. Thus, luxury groups have put in place some comprehensive strategies to serve Chinese customers not only “in China, but also in their stores in Paris, Milan and Geneva,” says Patrice Nordey.

Boom on Internet

Luxury stands out on the Chinese Web – China ranks as the biggest market for e-commerce worldwide, before the United States. Estimated at 1.35 billion Euros in 2011 in the former Middle Kingdom, the e-luxury market has indeed jumped 70% last year with a total 2.3 billion Euros of online spending. It is expected to exceed 5.5 billion by 2015, according to iResearch Chinese cabinet, and thus capture 10% of the local luxury market. “The anti-corruption campaign will not change the situation,” said Wang Jun, a Beijing blogger.

This strong growth of online luxury disrupts traditional models, offering “the possibility of exploring brands on your iPad, via social networks such as Weibo, Wechat or P1. Consumers have the option to buy luxury goods and have them delivered straight to their home through online retailers such as Yoox, Glamour Sales, and Shangpin”, explains Patrice.

Is China the new continent for luxury? Despite the impact of the current campaign that targets the “rogue cops” Party, opportunities remain “for brands that manage to adapt to this new context.”

Article by Pierre Tiessen.