By Anthony DeMarco
October 14, 2011
Affluent consumers in the U.S. and much of the world are pulling back on their spending and attitude toward luxury. However, in China, affluent consumers are choosing luxury in every aspect of the lives, according to a seven-country survey of households earning at least $150,000.
About 57 percent of wealthy Chinese shoppers say that the economic environment has prompted them to spend more on luxury in the past year, and 50 percent plan to boost spending in the next 12 months, according to the survey by the Luxury Institute, a New York-based consulting firm. Restraint is more evident in the U.S., where 10 percent of the wealthy stepped up luxury spending in the past year and 6 percent plan to spend more in the next 12 months. U.S. consumers are twice as likely as those in China (32% vs. 16%) to have trimmed luxury spending last year.
Meanwhile, in Europe the currency crisis did not stop 14 percent of wealthy shoppers in France and 17 percent of those in Italy from boosting luxury spending this year, according to the survey, which represents the top 10 percent in household income. However, 38 percent of high-income shoppers in both countries plan to cut back in the coming year.
In Japan, the March earthquake and tsunami dampened enthusiasm for luxury shopping, with 7 percent of wealthy Japanese consumers reporting higher levels of spending and 34 percent cutting back.
The most widespread retrenchment comes in the U.K., where 38 percent of wealthy shoppers have pared back luxury spending, and 41 percent plan reductions in coming months. Germany shows more stability compared to other rich nations: Only 17 percent of wealthy German consumers say that they are spending less on luxury now and 29 percent plan to trim luxuries in the coming year.
Across all seven markets, luxury travel is the category in which most wealthy consumers anticipate stepping up spending, with China far and away showing the strongest appetite, according to the survey.
In China, 58 percent of the wealthy plan to spend more on leisure travel, followed by 28 percent in Italy and 22 percent in Germany who say the same. A total of 16 percent of wealthy consumers in the U.K., and 18 percent in the U.S., Japan, France and Italy, plan to spend more on travel.
Spending plans across the board in each of the 26 luxury categories were substantially higher in China than in Europe and the U.S., with some of the biggest disparities showing in apparel, watches, jewelry and gifts where Chinese consumers were six to seven times more likely to boost spending, according to the survey. Also strong in China are luxury auto sales, with 43 percent of the wealthy planning to spend more on cars, compared to 11 percent in the U.S., U.K. and Japan.
Attitudes towards luxury are far more positive in China than they are in other rich nations, with 78 percent of those surveyed saying that luxury goods and services are more important in today’s economy. The reverse is true in the U.S. where 80 percent of wealthy shoppers say that luxury has become less important.
More than 75 percent of Chinese say that luxury expenditures are prudent purchases, while 78 percent of wealthy consumers in the U.S., U.K., and Germany find them to be an extravagance. Similarly, 78 percent of China’s wealthy shoppers say that luxury goods and services are an important part of their lifestyle in today’s economy, compared to 25 percent in U.S. and Germany and 20 percent in France who agree that luxury remains central in their lives.
Wealthy Chinese consumers are also highly inclined to place a premium on exclusivity and quality, and discounting turns them off. More than half of wealthy Chinese and 49 percent of Japanese say that brands that discount their merchandise are not truly luxury brands. In the U.S. and Germany, one-third of wealthy consumers share the same dim view of discounting, as do 40 percent of wealthy shoppers in the U.K, Italy and France. Despite the dour attitude towards discounting, 56 percent of wealthy Chinese say that discounting has increased their overall spending on luxury and 50 percent plan to spend more on discounted luxury items in the coming months.