“Many people are inclined to believe that gentlemen are generously purchasing luxury gifts for women in China,” said Christian Gobber, managing director of Maserati China, “but our observation is that the great majority [of buyers] are women who have achieved great success in their business and are now rewarding themselves with the finer things in life.”
Gobber’s “observation” is an emerging trend in the Chinese consumer market, and no company is a better testament to that than Maserati itself. In 2010, Maserati sold 400 autos in China. Thirty percent of those sales—or 120 automobiles—were sold to women.
This figure has increased dramatically in just the last five years; in 2005, women made up 7 percent of Maserati purchasers in China. And although 7 percent sounds measly when compared to 30 percent, the 2005 figure is still higher than the proportion of women in Western markets. In the U.S. and Europe, women make up only about 2 to 5 percent of Maserati drivers.
The female phenomenon is not limited to just Maserati. China had an estimated $15 billion in luxury sales for 2010, and, according to a McKinsey & Co. survey, women accounted for more than half of luxury purchases—an increase from McKinsey’s 2008 survey, which said women accounted for only 45 percent of Chinese luxury sales. Not only are national figures increasing, but so are individual expenditures: the average female luxury consumer in China increased spending by 22 percent between 2008 and 2010; the average male luxury consumer only increased spending 10 percent.
The trend toward female success is not limited to faceless survey results: China is home to eleven of the world’s 20 richest self-made women, as well as 153 female yuan billionaires (in US currency, around $150 million). Female college graduates in China are more motivated than their Western counterparts to seek management positions: 76 percent of Chinese female grads say they aspire to management positions, while only 52 percent of U.S. female grads say the same.
The trend toward female financial empowerment has encouraged female-oriented brands—including Burberry, Chloe, and Givenchy—to invest even more in the Chinese market. Bulgari, based in Rome, increased its advertising in Chinese female-targeted magazines from its 2010 budget of 106,000 yuan to a 2011 estimate of 22 million yuan ($3.3 million).
The recognition of more female consumers has also pushed companies to experiment with their online presence. According to McKinsey, women are more likely than men to shop online, and their online purchases are often influenced by peer comments on blogs or social-networking sites.
Yuval Atsmon, a principal at McKinsey, suggests that part of the reason women are impelled to spend more is because they feel more pressure than men to stay up-to-date in fashion; but consumer Sun Ningning, a 32-year-old sales manager at GlaxoSmithKline, gives an insider’s view on why women spend. Sun recently purchased a Chloe handbag that cost 15 percent more than her monthly salary, but she doesn’t feel remorse.
“There’s just something about buying luxury that makes me feel happy,” said Sun. “I can’t really explain it.”