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The Chinese dream is over for western luxury brands in China: Time for a reality check

Affluent Chinese customer - DunhillChina has recorded the most number of closures of luxury stores between July 2016 and July 2017, the latest report by the investment research and management company Bernstein shows. The report, titled “Store Wars,” based its findings on Bernstein’s tracking of about 7,000 stores referring to 36 luxury brands including big names such as Burberry, Saint Laurent, and Céline. Burberry and Dunhill had the most store closures in China of all the brands during that period.
China has seen 62 net closures of luxury brand stores during the surveyed period, the largest number observed by Bernstein among all significant geographies. The firm viewed the trend as a revision of the over-expansion, in previous years, of luxury brands into the Chinese market.

The rapid development of the country’s luxury industry fueled by affluent Chinese consumers has given luxury brands unrealistic projections of retail sales in the past. This over-estimation, according to Bernstein, has led them to aggressively open retail stores in China that exceeds consumers’ real purchasing power. The same situation occurs in the Middle East region, another area where luxury consumption is rising fast.
Globally, the number of the net store openings by luxury brands has also for the first time run into the negative territory. The report said most brands have more or less closed some of their stores in the department stores, a traditional channel that accounts for about one-third of these brands’ global sales.

Chinese consumers have demonstrated some remarkedly different purchasing behaviours from that of the West. According to Pierre Gervois, a leading expert about wealthy Chinese travelers’ shopping behavior, and founder of the prestigious STC magazine “Western luxury brands have been warned since 2010 that their projections about affluent Chinese consumers were grossly exaggerated.” “Brands refused to acknowledge that their future Chinese customers would buy in overseas stores – and in particular in the United States- rather than in domestic stores, both for tax reasons but also because of the poor customer service in their Chinese stores”, Gervois added.

Another distinguishing habit that sets Chinese luxury consumers apart from Westerners is their huge interest in buying luxury items online. Over the past year, an increasing number of luxury brands have embraced the e-commerce marketplace and launched stores with the country’s top two players, Alibaba and JD. Moreover, big names like Louis Vuitton and Gucci even opened their own Chinese e-commerce stores to ensure their offerings meet the expectations of Chinese consumers. And then there’s the nature of luxury itself, the meaning of which is different to younger consumers from what it was to their forebears.

Another concern that Western brands cannot officially recognize in China, is that a growing part of affluent millennials Chinese are moving from government-censored social media (We Chat, Weibo…) to Facebook and Twitter throughout an increasing use of VPN’s. That makes much less relevant their communications campaigns on Chinese networks.

Source: JingDaily Blog / Jenny Zhang / Ryan Yu

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