Female Shoppers Are Finally Changing the Face of China's Fashion Market

It's a movie cliché: the wife, credit card clasped firmly between two fingers, is spending the big bucks on designer coats, dresses, and bags, while the husband opts for a new car or a piece of land in the Hamptons — anything but fashion. As a cliché goes, it's not terribly far from the truth; consumer trends on the whole show that women tend to outspend men in the high-end fashion department, accounting for about two-thirds of high-end purchases globally. One significant exception? Female shoppers in China.

Back in 1995, an incredible 90 percent of high-end purchases in China were made by men. After all, Chinese men had the purchasing power; women simply didn't. Today, according to Businessweek, those numbers are changing rapidly, and because of that, the fashion scene in China will be forced to undergo some serious re-definition. Today, female shoppers in China make up half of high-end purchases, a number that still lags behind the global average, but is explosively higher than it was 20 years ago.

Who are these women, and why are they suddenly players in the high-end market? Lisa Yan, profiled in Businessweek, cites jobs and peer pressure as part of the reason women are buying Prada handbags, while a senior analyst from a London company says that women are becoming "more independent, becoming richer." In short, purchasing power in China is no longer solely in the domain of men.

What this means, of course, is that the China's fashion market must change to keep up. A male-oriented business model simply won't work in this new era of independent women buying clothes and handbags not for business gifts or girlfriends, but for themselves. There are big bucks at stake for retailers that manage to snag the attention of these savvy female shoppers, but they'll have to work for it: Chinese shoppers are making more than two-thirds of their purchases abroad, partially because prices are better (Businessweek reports that the same Chanel bag costs 35,200 yuan in China and about 24,400 yuan in Paris), and partially because customers are dissatisfied with poor service on the mainland.

And don't expect too much bling: Ad Age reports that China's wealthy are actually spending less and less, public officials are being pressured to cool the extravagant spending, and logo fatigue is setting in. This new crop of female Chinese shoppers knows what they want, and it's up to the retailers to provide it for them — otherwise, they'll have no problem going elsewhere.

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