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Materialism is neutral, neither positive nor negative. In Mianyang, a middling city in the province of Sichuan, an enormous billboard featuring Miranda Kerr, an Australian supermodel, draped in Swarovski crystals welcomes shoppers to the Parkson shopping mall. It is one of half a dozen high-end malls in town. Luxury sales are exploding there.
Thirty kilometres 20 miles away in Luxi, a town of 57, people, online shopping is hot. The first express-delivery office opened only three years ago, and handled perhaps ten packages a day; today, there are five, each handling packages a day.
Even 60km away, in rural Santai county where farm-workers are the customers, one modern shopping mall has sprung up and another is being built. In the s and s the world economy was transformed by the emergence of the American consumer. Now China seems poised to become the next consumption superpower.
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Higher government spending on health care and pensions may encourage households to save less for such things. Higher interest rates may, paradoxically, discourage thrift if people reach their savings goals faster. Rising wages and an ageing population will also shift the balance towards consumption rather than saving. And although household debt is growing fast, China still has relatively little. Besides, consumption has not fallen in absolute terms. It has, in fact, grown briskly—just not quite as quickly as the economy overall.
In dollar terms, China contributed more than any other country to the growth in global consumption inaccording to Andy Rothman of CLSA, a broker. A massive push to urbanise is also under way, which should produce tens of millions of richer citizens seeking retail therapy. McKinsey, a consultancy, forecasts that consumption by urban Chinese households will increase from 10 trillion yuan in to nearly Lovers and friends Mianyang passion trillion yuan in see chart 1. How much China spends is striking.
Even more so is the way it spends. Sanford C. Newly middle-class types in cities in the interior are keen to try out new products, especially the ones they have seen on foreign television shows.
Top things to do in mianyang
Jeff Walters of the Boston Consulting Group BCG points out that even country bumpkins are consuming global media, thanks to the wild popularity of local online-video services. This passion for fashion is, in theory, good news for multinational marketers. Unlike, say, Japan, where consumers heavily favour local brands, Chinese consumers hold foreign brands in high esteem. A recent study by Bain, another consultancy, found that although foreign brands still lead in some areas biscuits, fabric-softener, bottled waterlocal brands are surging in others toothpaste, cosmetics, juice.
Top things to do in mianyang
Brand-hopping, though, is rife. Swarovski, the crystal-maker, has discovered that over three-quarters of Chinese customers are eager to try new brands, a far higher figure than elsewhere. This creates several problems. With two or three times as many brands on shelves as found in other countries, competition is ferocious. This makes advertising and marketing vital—but the cost of publicity is soaring.
Another complication for marketers is that many Chinese shoppers have a global outlook. When middle classes rose to prominence in America and Japan, the internet did not exist. People could not Google the latest European fashions or check discounts on Amazon. The arrival of cheap air travel has also made the Chinese more discerning shoppers. Many Chinese also use online shopping agents, who aggregate requests and bring back foreign goods. Foreign websites, including Amazon, now offer direct Lovers and friends Mianyang passion to China for certain products, and local e-commerce giants such as Alibaba run cross-border services.
Buying overseas saves money, since mark-ups and hefty taxes are the rule in China. Many ordinary folk travel not just to Hong Kong, the most convenient spot, but to Jeju Island in South Korea where they can visit without a visa and shop duty-free to stock up on cosmetics that cost much more at home. Price, though, is not the only motivation. Another is to avoid the counterfeit goods so common on the mainland. Even more important, consumers say, are the variety and freshness of the products available overseas. Nowhere is this wide-ranging urge to spend Lovers and friends Mianyang passion obvious than in the market for luxury goods.
Some two-thirds of Chinese spending on luxury goods takes place outside the mainland; a fifth of it in Europe. Although a government crackdown on corruption has crimped mainland sales, and some luxury firms slowed down the rollout of new boutiques there last year, Coach, Prada and Bottega Veneta continued to expand. Apple expanded too; it now has more stores in Shanghai than in San Francisco, and launches new iPhones in Beijing when it does in California.
In the past, the Chinese showed little interest in Western art. That is starting to change, and may change quicker with the opening of a new museum of Western art in Shanghai. Ms Potter also observes that two-thirds of affluent consumers are keen to know the history and cultural background of foreign brands. So they love to buy Piaget watches in Geneva and Zegna suits in Milan, but reject unconventional offerings such as German watches or Japanese leather bags.
It is not only in luxury goods that Chinese shoppers are leading the way. Perhaps because they distrust official information, the Chinese rely heavily on peer reviews. Research by BCG has shown that they write, and act on, online reviews of products and services far more than Westerners do. Millions of online shoppers follow the thoughts of Miumiu and Viviandan, leggy twins from industrial Chongqing, who started posting pictures of themselves in the latest fashions, with wry observations on trends and prices, a decade ago.
Even now they post recommendations nearly every day on social-media sites such as Instagram, or on Weibo. Their likes and dislikes make or break products. Chinese consumers are no longer willing to pay a hefty premium for any old foreign brand. But creative approaches can pay off. Whereas climbers and hikers in the West relish the thought of conquering mountains alone, the Chinese Lovers and friends Mianyang passion think of outings in Nature as a spiritual escape, to be enjoyed with friends.
So the firm created an online community linking amateurs to clubs devoted to outdoor pursuits. The website offers points for activity and loyalty that can be redeemed for products. Sales are soaring, and VF now has a detailed database of over half a million keen customers. The online awareness of Chinese customers has big global implications. He believes that the Chinese market, unlike those in Western countries, is driven by young urban consumers who are demanding something new and have no taboos.
He points to peculiar and distinctive products developed for this niche in China, such as a black-foam face-scrub for men, which are now being launched around the world. Keen to win over sceptical consumers more accustomed to baijiu a local firewaterthe firm opened Johnnie Walker House in Shanghai almost three years ago. Certain rare blends, including some bearing the marks of the Chinese zodiac, are sold only at this venue. This effort has helped Diageo introduce its whiskies to thousands of affluent customers, who in turn have pushed the firm towards new inventions—such as blends with a much higher alcohol content—which helped its whisky revenues grow twice as fast as the industry average.
The concept has been such a success that Lovers and friends Mianyang passion company has opened new Houses in Beijing and Seoul, and plans others. When Diageo unveiled Odyssey, a special-edition blend, init kicked off the global launch not in London or New York but in Shanghai.
Chinese firms are starting to catch up with their fancier foreign rivals. Some even aspire to become global brands. Huawei, a telecoms-equipment giant, is making a big push into branded consumer electronics. Xiaomi, a startup smartphone manufacturer in Beijing, has developed a hugely popular phone-and-app system inspired as much by Amazon as by Apple.
When it launched its latest Yoga tablet last year it chose Ashton Kutcher, a Hollywood star who had played Steve Jobs in a film, as its spokesman. That sums up the rise of China nicely. Future consumer markets everywhere are going to look more Chinese.
They will increasingly be cosmopolitan, luxury-minded and online. This article appeared in the Briefing section of the print edition under the headline "Doing it their way". Briefing Jan 25th edition.