This article was originally written by Ruonan Zheng and was published on Jing Daily

Are some free-spending Chinese consumers becoming a little less materialistic?

Researchers and trend watchers have noticed a shift in luxury shopping behaviours and attitudes, especially among a younger demographic who may not be quite as willing to splash their cash on high-end products as they were once thought to be.

One report, “Understanding Chinese Millennials’ Apparel Shopping Behavior and Attitudes”, published by Fung Business Intelligence of Hong Kong in August, notes that “good quality” and “good-looking design” are outranking “brand name/famous brand” as attributes buyers are seeking.

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“Chinese millennials are still very much interested in luxury brands,” said Amrita Banta, managing director of Singapore-based Agility Research & Strategy.

Chinese millennials are still very much interested in luxury brands ... but they don’t want to be seen as prizing the material [objects] over everything else
Amrita Banta, managing director, Agility Research

“They do want and like material things, but they don’t want to be seen as prizing the material over everything else.”

Some buyers are looking more to identify with a brand than to show off that they can afford the luxury, for example.

According to Agility Research’s survey – also released in August – of affluent Chinese born between 1995 and 2000, the majority claimed to be “Buddha-like” – referring to a desire to be detached from the material world.

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Yet, interestingly, more than half of the surveyed respondents also said they do not regard luxury as having to be material.

Up to 83 per cent of Chinese millennials now prefer to travel solo and shopping is far down the list of priorities behind visiting museums and art and exploring nature
Agility Research survey

The shifting priorities may be closely related to the current economic situation in China.

Competitive pressures have pushed some of the hyper-educated, underemployed generation into a more spiritual way of living – in reaction to the radical changes in wealth and technology they see all around them.

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This shift in priorities is showing up in travel trends, too.

According to Agility Research’s survey, a stunning 83 per cent of millennials now prefer to travel solo; and while shopping is still an activity for them while travelling, it is far down on the list of priorities, with museums and art (preferred by 69 per cent of respondents) and exploring nature (preferred by 61 per cent) just two of the activities that outrank it.

This phenomenon was first described in a 2017 WeChat article, “The First Group of Post-90s are Already Becoming Monks”, which resonated with many readers.

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The post went viral and has inspired many to share their Zen way of living on social media, referring to themselves as “Buddha youth” (佛系青年).

The way to engage this tribe of young [Chinese] people effectively is to appeal to this sense of being your own person
Amrita Banta

How should brands reflect this trend in their marketing strategy?

Experts offer their takes: “Brands can use user-generated content as a link to fully discover consumers’ emotional needs and form bonds on a deeper level,” Chen Yini, a research consultant for consultancy group Kantar China, said.

Banta said the young shoppers prefer owning something with which they have a deep connection, and “being in the know” rather than “buying for showing”.

She said: “The way to engage this tribe of young people effectively is to appeal to this sense of being your own person.”

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