The latest luxury report from consulting firm Bain & Company shows that millennials around the globe will consume more than half of all luxury production by 2025, and the wealthy middle class will be the main force behind that consumption. But that segment will remain cautious about luxury spending, putting more emphasis on brand values and shopping experiences. This change in consumer mindset occurred before COVID-19, but the pandemic has amplified the shift. Therefore, overseas brands that are struggling in the Chinese market must pay attention to these changes and the social dynamics surrounding them.
To find out more about this new generation’s preferences, Jing Daily interviewed Yufei Li, a post-90s-born consumer currently based in Guangzhou. Yufei lived overseas for ten years but continued to be involved with the international fashion industry. She earned her bachelor’s degree in fashion design while she was in the US and has gained experience in many areas of the fashion industry, conducting overseas procurement and business development for a Chinese domestic e-commerce platform, working in sales for luxury and boutique consignment stores, and starting her own jewelry business on Etsy. After working for two years, she obtained a graduate degree in the business of fashion, where she focused on learning about innovative retail business models and supply chain management. She’s currently a brand strategist for a Hong Kong-based company.
These days, consumers like Yufei are paying more attention to a brand’s make-up, and they appreciate domestic brands that have interesting stories behind them. She also touched upon the importance of enjoying high-quality experiences when shopping in physical stores and how her shopping priorities have changed thanks to COVID-19.
You have experience in both the overseas and domestic fashion industries. What are the differences between these markets?
Overseas brands operate with models that are more stable and mature, whereas domestic fashion brands put more emphasis on exponential growth, which is normally achieved through online sales. Domestic brands are more willing to invest heavily in operations and advertising [in China]. This trend is effective, but at the same time, the profit-driven domestic brands tend to behave impetuously, making it difficult to consistently enhance a set of core values.
In your opinion, which brand sets good examples of brand-building through customer experiences?
Establishing a brand’s core value requires a long-term commitment and the use of consistent language. I recently watched a livestream hosted by the founder of the domestic lingerie brand Neiwai. She mentioned how they meticulously polish their copywriting to make sure every word they use is in line with the brand’s DNA.
Louis Vuitton also impresses me in the way it uses storytelling to illustrate its history and build its value. They held an art exhibition demonstrating the culture the brand is steeped in, which displayed the very first LV suitcase and how it was used for shipping luggage during the war era. The first barrel bag, which originally catered to the royals’ need to carry wine around, was also exhibited. Through this perspective, every piece by the brand has a historical legacy behind it. Louis Vuitton knows how to narrate the brand’s cultural capital and export its culture, which leaves a deep impression on the consumer when they shop for the brand later.
What are some of your favorite brands?
I have many favorites, but if I had to pick one, I’d go with Uniqlo. The style of their product isn’t special, and its casualness doesn’t necessarily suit all occasions. Yet I adore their slogan in returning to the simple and the ordinary, which is what life is truly about. I believe that no matter who you are, there will always be some moments in your life where you need a piece that Uniqlo offers. I always find myself going to the store to see if they’ve come up with any new concepts. Another favorite of mine is the Chinese lingerie brand Neiwai. They communicate to the consumer that a piece of lingerie should be comfortable. And the content they deliver is consistent, showcasing the kind of attitude and lifestyle that a modern woman could embrace.
How has COVID-19 impacted your life?
Not being able to go out is a huge change. I had to stay home with my immediate family 24/7, not being able to see any friends or relatives. Although the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t as serious in my hometown of Shandong, people still stayed indoors. When I returned to Guangzhou and lived on my own, I relied entirely on online grocery delivery to sustain myself in the beginning. Later, I started visiting supermarkets twice a week.
How has the pandemic changed your industry?
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the creative and advertising industries. I read that only 30 percent of design companies are expected to survive. Many people have less savings than before, and brands want to stimulate consumption by any means — many have even attempted to livestream for the first time recently. Therefore, few brands have the funds for the long-term goal of crafting brand value.
Will you resume your past spending habits after COVID-19? Where would you choose to spend your money?
To me, the pandemic functions as a mirror that reflects my true needs. I wasn’t used to staying at home all the time at first, but then I got accustomed to it and gradually learned to calm down and sort out my thoughts. In addition to the necessary daily expenses, I’ve only purchased some e-books and several online courses.
Will you consider changing your spending habits after the pandemic?
I have developed a clearer understanding of what I really need. I believe that I will invest a little more into health and education and spend in a more rational way.
What would you expect to experience when you visit a physical store in the future?
I believe that the shopping experience at brick-and-mortar stores should be more immersive. It is necessary for brands to adopt digitalization and online delivery services. But, the only thing that an online experience can’t replicate is the sensory experience of shopping: the reaction we have when stepping into a special space and the experience that happens between people. These are memories that can’t be erased.
The original interview in Mandarin was conducted by Ruonan Zheng, and translated into English by Haiqing Zhang.