50 million shoppers can't be wrong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 July, 2008, 12:00am

Just six years ago, the mainland did not have a single US-dollar billionaire. That all changed last year when the Hurun Report's annual rich list counted more than 100, putting the mainland second only to the United States in terms of this kind of extreme wealth.

The list's publisher, Rupert Hoogewerf, said the wealthy were reaping the benefits of rising property prices and a burgeoning stock market.

The new super rich are the tip of an iceberg of 195 million people on the mainland who, according to author and assistant professor of marketing at Fudan University's School of Management Pierre Xiao Lu, can afford luxury goods.

In his book, Elite China - Luxury Consumer Behaviour in China, Mr Lu says the mainland not only represents a major source of potential customers for all luxury brands; he contends that affluent mainland consumers 'will reshape the luxury market like never before' over the next decade.

Mr Lu focuses on the shopping habits of the top 50 million wealthy consumers. These are people who have a personal income at least 10 times the national average, are aged between 25 and 45, have a high level of education and hold down critical positions in business.

These are also the people who have already helped make the mainland the world's 'fourth-largest consumer for Louis Vuitton, the fifth-largest for Gucci [and] third-largest for Mont Blanc'.

Before surveying the 'psychographic' landscape of the wealthy, Mr Lu looks at the mixed cultural connotations of the idea of luxury and how an Ermenegildo Zegna suit and an Audi A6 can become hallmarks of influence and status, while the Chinese-language translation of the concept is tied to the characters for extravagance and arrogant waste.

The heart of Mr Lu's book are the two chapters that segment affluent consumers into four categories - luxury lovers, followers, intellectuals and laggards - and how they differ across the country.

Mr Lu's third act examines how three companies have tried to stake a claim on the mainland luxury market and how others can tap the sector. Canada may be known for oil sands and maple syrup, but it is also a parent of Sino-Canadian fashion house Ports Design, which has more than 300 mainland outlets. The example of Alfred and Edward Chan is testament to the power of commercial cross-pollination.

Elite China contains two books - one is a readable assessment of the mindset of mainland consumers of luxury goods, the other is academic research pitched at a specialist audience. The author is sometimes bogged down in jargon and threatens to baffle the general business reader. There must be a better way to say 'the confirmation of the correlation between felt ambivalence and post-purchase guilt shows that inconsistency and dissonance after luxury buying are caused by the consumer's ambivalence'.