Key planks of consumer spending on the mainland are expected to come under pressure this year, with the economic slowdown adding to uncertainty over the outlook for markets from cars to jewellery, but it's all blue skies for online shopping.
For the car industry, some analysts doubt the robust demand seen last year can be sustained, exacerbated by buyer quotas in some cities - including Beijing and Shanghai - amid concerns over worsening air pollution.
As for the jewellery sector, some say the bull run for sales of gold ornaments and jewellery in the first half of last year has sputtered after prices of the metal recouped some lost ground.
Still, a number of analysts and retailers see sufficient strength in private-sector consumption to keep the tills ringing and cushion the impact of reduced public-sector spending amid Beijing's anti-corruption campaign.
"Consumer spending should remain resilient," HSBC chief economist Qu Hongbin said. "All the signs are that the anti-corruption campaign will likely continue, which implies that wholesale consumption and catering services demand would remain muted. This is likely to dent total consumption demand."
Qu forecasts that growth in mainland retail sales will taper off to 12.8 per cent this year, from an estimated 13 per cent last year. Sales grew 14.3 per cent in 2012.
China International Capital Corp economist Liang Hong said domestic consumption would slow down as the mainland pursues policies aimed at rebalancing income and wealth distribution between state-owned sectors and the rest of the economy, as well as between urban and rural areas.
This trend is likely to be played out in the car industry, with Citic Securities analyst Xu Yingbo forecasting sales growth of 9 per cent to 24 million vehicles this year, slowing from an estimated 14 per cent rise to 22 million vehicles last year.
The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said sales in the first 11 months of last year gained 13.53 per cent to 19.86 million vehicles. Sales grew 4.33 per cent to 19.32 million vehicles for all of 2012.
From January to November, sales of passenger vehicles rose 15.4 per cent from a year ago, while the growth for commercial vehicles was 7.2 per cent.
Xu is upbeat on passenger-vehicle sales, expecting growth of more than 10 per cent, reflecting the strong spending power of mainland consumers. Commercial vehicles are expected to see steady growth of 6 to 7 per cent.
However, he said the economic slowdown could dampen demand. Xu also cites the extension of car-purchase limits to more cities as another factor that could weigh on the industry.
Car-purchases quotas are now applied in Beijing, Shanghai and southwestern city of Guiyang; Tianjin last month unveiled measures to curb car buying.
Tina Li, an analyst with BNP Paribas, pointed to sales of passenger vehicles beating market expectations of high single-digit growth last year. "We believe the surprise in 2013 was driven by the overall warming of the macroeconomy, rising consumption and consumption upgrades," Li said.
Daniel Kirchert, managing director of Infiniti China, the luxury unit of Japanese carmaker Nissan Motor, said the premium market would see good growth prospects this year.
The central government's reforms and its urbanisation policy would boost demand, he said, buoying sentiment among buyers in the premium market.
"[From a] long-term growth prospective, we think China's economy will continue to grow at reasonably high rates in the coming decade," Kirchert said, spelling good opportunities for the premium car segment.
For the overall car market, Li said there was room for growth in the second and third-tier cities where pollution and traffic congestion were less of an issue, citing strong figures in such cities last year.
BNP Paribas forecast passenger-vehicle sales will grow by 14.4 per cent to 20.51 million units this year from an estimated 17.93 million units last year, Li said, expecting luxury multipurpose vehicles and sport utility vehicles to be the big performers.
In the jewellery and watch sector, retailers earlier last year experienced something of a gold rush in sales after sharp falls in bullion prices.
"Excluding the gold rush between April and June, we see that consumer sentiment has been picking up gradually and steadily, leading to a resilience in retail markets in Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland," a spokeswoman for Chow Tai Fook said.
The world's largest jeweller reported a 92.3 per cent jump in profit to HK$3.51 billion in the six months to September 30, from a year earlier, driven by the first-half consumer rush for gold.
"We expect the mass luxury jewellery segment will continue to drive the growth momentum in 2014, leading to a steady business growth," the spokeswoman said. "We also expect a growing trend of newly married couples as it is the Year of the Horse, which is traditionally a good year symbolising strength and energy. That will boost the demand for wedding jewellery products."
However, Credit Suisse expects jewellers to come under pressure this year. "Among the jewellery retailers, we believe the normalising sales growth momentum and soft second half of 2013 outlooks are likely to impose pressure on share prices in the short run," it said in December 6 report.
Meanwhile, online sales are expected to soar this year.
A recent eBay survey found that although 80 per cent of Hong Kong-based retailers felt that local consumer demand would be sluggish, owners of online business - including those with shopfront operations - were optimistic for this year and were especially looking to growth in overseas markets.
"E-commerce will continue to boom as the number of online shoppers" especially the young customer group rise, the Chow Tai Fook spokeswoman said.