This article was written by Ruonan Zheng and originally published in Jing Daily
With first-hand access to the latest trends from a wide variety of luxury brands, Chinese students abroad have become unofficial opinion leaders for their friends and peers back home.
According to a survey conducted by China Luxury Advisors, 31 per cent of Chinese students in New York and Boston escort friends and family on shopping trips at least once every three months. Thirty-four per cent bought luxury goods to take back to China at a similar frequency.
This unique demographic has caught the attention of many retailers and brands. Bloomingdales and Bergdorf Goodman have sponsored Lunar New Year celebrations for local Chinese students, while brands host special fashion shows and even invite executives to give them advice on developing careers in the fashion industry.
The microinfluencers with major appeal
Many Chinese youngsters studying abroad fit the description of second-generation rich teens, otherwise known as fu’er dai, born in the late ’80s or early ’90s to wealthy Chinese businesspeople. They’re easy to spot at universities, dressed head to toe in luxury goods, perhaps driving a Porsche around campus.
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But times have changed, and many Chinese students have become more careful about what they buy, according to Charlie Gu, director at China Luxury Advisors. They often look for smaller, independent designer brands that can showcase their personality and individuality.
Scarlett Hao is an New York University student with a strong following among Chinese students in the United States. Hao says she first started sharing fashion content because she noticed there were no plus-size Asian fashion bloggers. She felt a responsibility to pass on the concept of body positivity to her fans.
The gradual diversification of styles and attitudes among Chinese people at home and abroad means brands can no longer treat them as a monolithic group.
“Many luxury brands or shopping centres connect with student groups in a one-note fashion,” says Nancy Hsieh, a dual culture luxury adviser at consulting firm The Gold Linq. “They will provide sponsorships for the student association and a free shuttle to their centres. And it stops there.”
But Chinese students abroad “want to be part of experiential events and activities that are part of the luxe American experience”, Hsieh says.
For consumers who are increasingly sceptical of celebrities endorsements, a campaign that draws in student microinfluencers can come across as more authentic.
A long-term investment
Luxury beauty brand Clé de Peau Beauté identified fu’erdai as a consumer segment to target through its research. It further defines the segment as women under 35 who are born in China, come from a family with more than US$500,000 yearly household income, and are currently enrolled in graduate or undergraduate programmes.
To gain more insights from this group, Clé de Peau Beauté organised an exclusive event. The brand invited 15 female Chinese students to a cocktail reception, where the brand’s heritage and upcoming product launches were introduced. It concluded with a Q&A session.
“We know that we couldn’t hold a regular kind of boring focus group,” says Jennifer Coppolino, the director of market insights and consumer engagement at Clé de Peau Beauté. “We didn’t think they would be interested in sitting around a table for a couple hundred dollars to talk for a couple hours. They are interested in luxury events, an opportunity that would be fun to tell their friends about on Instagram, so we created an environment that feels more social.”
When asked about the results, Coppolino says the research “has impacted every piece of the marketing world”, from product decisions to in-store sales strategies and WeChat programming.
“Sometimes it’s hard for brands to generate results, and some give up after one try,” Gu from China Luxury Advisor agrees. To generate enduring sales from Chinese students abroad, he says, “it ultimately depends on the long-term relationship”.