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Womenomics 她经济: The Chinese Female Economy Powering Global Luxury Spending

In a far cry from outdated stereotypical gender roles, the modern Chinese woman is an economic powerhouse who stands at the forefront of global luxury spending.

Mao Zedong’s ‘women hold up half the sky’ still rings true, yet now Chinese women hold up entire industries. Chinese consumers account for 30% of global luxury spending, and 70% of this growth has been led by China’s affluent middle class, millennials, and female consumers. More financial and social independence, social stability and higher disposable incomes afforded means women are spending more on themselves and luxury brands are raising the bar to satisfy their demands.

It’s a (wo)man’s world

A report from Julius Baer describe the face of wealth in China as ‘young, self-made, and female’. There are more women now than ever holding senior professional positions enjoying abundant financial freedom and purchasing power, and China has produced the highest numbers of self-made female billionaires - although if the wage gap compared with their male counterparts is anything to go by, it is an indication of the purchasing power brands can expect to come.

The catchphrase ‘Womenomics’ 她经济 has been thrown around more and more, spurred on by the increase of female economic presence. It has become common practice for Chinese women to make considerable long term and heavy financial investments in products they consider beneficial to their public image. All in the name of self-improvement, be they cosmetics, jewellery, fashion, academic or health and fitness, spending on personal items and luxury goods is habitual behaviour amongst affluent urban women. Spending on personal experiences such as travel, group travel as well as solo travel, is seeing more growth among female consumers. Data from Ctrip shows that in China, six out of ten solo travellers are female (although girlfriend trips and shopping trips have not fallen out of favour, with 62% of hotel bookings made near shopping malls). International luxury hotels have opened their doors to these Free Independent Travellers (FIT) who include from globe-trotting bloggers, adventurers and foodies, which is still a huge opportunity for brands to get to know this key market.

Chinese women are an important demographic in China's domestic and outbound travel markets
Chinese women are an important demographic in China's domestic and outbound travel markets

China, having dethroned the USA as the biggest global luxury player, is leading the way on the global stage. As of this year, Chinese women’s contribution to global luxury spending is an estimated $700 billion. Female consumers in China alone have a large stake in most industries. Women account for more than 40% of luxury car purchases in the Chinese car market and are changing the conversation around gender roles and high-end purchasing decisions, which is a statement in itself.
One example of a successful marketing campaign is Maserati’s statement campaign alongside Italian lingerie brand La Perla in Vogue Italia. These two brands seized the opportunity to target its female consumer base, affectionately known as their ‘Queens’ 女王, at full throttle. The campaign showcased Chinese women from several different professions to pose alongside their cars in a series of powerful photographs accompanied by such empowering quotes as ‘I chose the Maserati Quattroporte Sedan because it is perfect for high-end professional women like me, low-key luxury, and unobtrusive ” ("我选择玛莎拉蒂Quattroporte 轿车,因为它非常适合我这样的高级职业女性,低调奢华, 毫不张扬。”)

Maserati's new female empowerment campaign featuring young Chinese female professionals across a variety of industries
Maserati's new female empowerment campaign featuring young Chinese female professionals across a variety of industries

How to make a splash with the ladies

Brands often fall flat in their messages marketing to women in China, which is a known cultural hotbed of soaring successes and crashing failures. Everything from encouraging the ‘leftover women’ demographic to find their ‘knight in shining armour’ to renaming International Women’s Day ‘Butterfly Festival’ as in the case of JD.com should be seen as a lesson for foreign brands who are marketing to Chinese female consumers.

New data shows the distribution of female entrepreneurs on Alibaba and the key represented business segments
New data shows the distribution of female entrepreneurs on Alibaba and the key represented business segments

The commoditization of holidays in China is so much so that International Women’s Day 妇女节 on March 8th has become the latest national shopping holiday, also known as ‘Goddess Day’ or ‘Queens Day’. Chinese feminist activist Xiao Meili describes it as ‘consumerist feminism’. On top of this, Girls Day on March 7th, was created to ‘boost gender equality’ - and of course creating marketing opportunities for brands. However, there remains a gap in the market for brands to carefully and considerately cater to Chinese women.

Lifestyle platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, Tmall and Little Red Book (or simply RED) are onboarding more and more Western brands, which are all great places for brands to start out in China. RED in particular has a majority of female users at 88%, so makes for the perfect platform to market to your Chinese female audience. Chinese women are keen to express their individuality and interests, and to make a statement. Makeup and fashion for instance are versatile tools of self expression and empowerment for many women, sharing this message as part of your brand story has potential to go far in China.

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