BEIJING — Concerned about a less robust economy and turbulent domestic stock markets, Chinese consumers are spending more money on mass-market fashion brands or brands that offer more value for money in terms of quality and style, according to retail analysts.
China’s economy expanded 7 percent in the second quarter, according to figures released by the government on Wednesday. Retail sales for June grew 10.6 percent year-on-year, while retail sales for the first half were up 10.4 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
While that figure is in line with annual growth targets set forth this year by the nation’s political leaders, analysts and Chinese consumers alike say there is concern about the health of the world’s second-largest economy. In particular, middle-class consumers are concerned about the viability of their investments, both in the stock market and in real estate, as well as rising prices against the backdrop of salaries that are not increasing in line with inflation.
“I think people have a bit more uncertainty than they have [had] in the past about the future direction of the economy,” Benjamin Cavender, a senior analyst with the Shanghai-based China Market Research Group, said. “People are continuing to spend, but they are becoming more choosy. They are not quite as optimistic recently.”
Cavender said the era of Chinese, in particular younger generations, saving a good portion of their salaries to buy luxury products may be waning — at least in the short-term. Mass luxury brands, he said, “will not be doing so great for the rest of the year.”
“I think young Chinese are reasonably positive about the future but there is not this sense of excitement about future growth,” he said. “So they are pulling back on their spending and being more choosy about what they are going to buy. Spending in China is still on the rise, but you have to look at where that growth is coming from. In many cases I think it is coming from smaller cities.”
For the first half, retail sales in rural areas were up 11.6 percent compared to the same period last year and slight higher than the 10.2 percent growth in urban areas, the statistics bureau said.
There is a sentiment that any woes in the retail sector are due to macro-issues that may take a while to work out. Consumers are shopping more online, which, in turn, is hurting brick-and-mortar retailers. Brands, particularly luxury players, have issues with overstocking and higher price points, so to move merchandise they are offering deep discounts on many products. And tastes have changed, with consumers who more than ever educated about brands, who are more selective about what they want to buy and who are more aware of how much products cost overseas.
“We think retailers are finding a sense of normality in the market,” James Rogers, managing director of CR Retail, a Shanghai-based consultancy, said. “People are becoming more frugal with their money and more conscious about what they are spending it on.”
Rogers said he sees “enormous opportunity” for affordable luxury and bridge brands. “The market is still there,” he said. “What we are saying is retailers need to be far more conscious with their decisions and really think long-term.”
Just how well some retailers are performing in China, particularly luxury and high-end brands, is becoming murkier, according to one executive of a company managing a number of high-end men’s wear brands, who requested anonymity. Many brands are lumping sales from discounts, e-commerce and full-priced purchases together, resulting in figures that may not truly be indicative of how they are performing.
“It is hard to tell the real picture,” the executive said. “Everyone is doing different things. Everyone has some sort of issue.”
He added: “In general, the situation is not promising, but people are using a lot of different ways to push up sales. But the push is not because of organic growth, but I think the current market change may not be a bad thing. It is an adjustment so brands have time to sit down and think about how to change.”
In third- and fourth-tier cities, the executive said he still sees growth potential for luxury players as smaller markets appear to not have been as heavily impacted by Beijing’s anticorruption campaign, which has virtually eradicated the purchase of expensive items once given as gifts to government officials.
“In smaller cities, there is not as much pressure [to avoid luxury goods],” he said. “I can still see some gifting is going on but they want to be low-profile. They don’t want to go to big cities to buy. They want to buy locally.”