Deep-pocketed women urbanites are driving a multitrillion-yuan mainland consumer market in the post-pandemic era, with more females now calling the shots in either family investments or household expenses. Edith Lu reports from Hong Kong.
They call it the “little sisters economy” that has emerged as a powerful consumer force to be reckoned with on the Chinese mainland.
They’re highly educated, well-heeled young women leading a city life and projected to shoulder a post-pandemic market that could hit trillions of yuan over the next two years. Their spending faculty is, to a large extent, boosted by the technological age — the advent of e-commerce and the vast popularity of social apps.
Mostly within the 18-to-40 age bracket and wielding high-paying jobs in the big cities, they’re a real godsend for an economy decimated by COVID-19.
A typical traditional Chinese woman is normally seen as tender, virtuous and family-oriented. They tend to spend more time than men controlling and handling the bulk of financial decisions made in the family, be it investments or routine household expenditure.
Women are playing a major role as the stay-at-home economy thrives under the coronavirus threat.
“From daily household expenses to spending on travel, healthcare, children’s education or buying a home, more women are now calling the shots and getting involved in executing the process themselves,” said Helen Chin, vice-president of Fung Business Intelligence — a Hong Kong-based knowledge bank and think tank that collects data and analyzes business trends in China and other Asian countries.
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In the realm of family shopping, annual spending by women on the mainland is expected to hit 8.6 trillion yuan (US$1.3 trillion) by 2022 — up from 3.3 trillion yuan in 2017 — according to a report by banking giant HSBC.
Their role as household purchase decision-makers has become more distinct in the midst of the public health crisis, with much of the community still stuck at home.
“Women are playing a major role as the stay-at-home economy thrives under the coronavirus threat,” e-commerce giant JD.com noted in a report. “They’re shielding the family from the pandemic and guaranteeing a smooth family life.”
As the COVID-19 threat recedes on the mainland, retailers have set their sights on young professional women in the post-pandemic age. They’re cashing in on such occasions as International Women’s Day; the mythology-inspired Qixi Festival, which stands as a symbol for a happy marriage among newlywed couples; and National Day, offering coupons and discounts on sportswear, cosmetics and healthcare to get young female consumers to spend more.
“Better education, rising disposable incomes and aspirations for the good life are making women, particularly the ‘little sisters’, a major force driving consumption on the mainland,” said Wendy Liu, a Hong Kong-based strategist at UBS Group.
The “little sisters” economy is defined as part of what’s called the “she economy” — a term coined by China’s Education Ministry in 2007 implying the women-targeted market.
Better education, rising disposable incomes and aspirations for the good life are making women, particularly the ‘little sisters’, a major force driving consumption on the mainland.
Wendy Liu, a Hong Kong-based strategist at UBS Group
Increased female employment and earnings are giving the “little sisters” greater financial autonomy. With late marriages and a lower birth rate in the country, they wield more spending power.
Talk of female empowerment has gained momentum, sparked by the popular reality-TV show Sisters Who Make Waves and the trendy series Nothing But Thirty, both of which strive to break gender stereotypes and shape multi-dimensional images that women can make the grade in careers and become independent through their own ability and diligence.
The popularity of these TV shows highlights viewers’ interest in the “little sisters” and their commercial potential, Liu said.
She believes the “little sisters” could have a strong impact on demand for cosmetics, duty-free goods, healthcare and the beauty industry, as well as mobile games and internet content.
READ MORE: 'She economy' makes rapid strides
To prove financial independence
Traditionally, the cosmetics and luxury goods sectors are women-dominated. They’re also the simplest approach for women to prove their financial independence by declaring they can afford what they want.
Angelina Chang, a 25-year-old employee at an investment bank in Hong Kong, forked over HK$6,000 (US$774) during a flash sale of duty-free retailer DFS in March. Astonishingly, she snapped up 10 lipsticks in one go.
“I haven’t bought a single lipstick so far this year as everybody has been tightening their purse strings due to the pandemic. But now’s the time to loosen them and please myself,” she said.
Such spending power is believed to have been partly responsible for the rising fortunes of companies like Proya Cosmetics, which has seen a dramatic 80 percent surge in its stock price on the Shanghai stock market this year.
The luxury goods market had similarly experienced a rapid rebound in the second quarter of this year, with female consumers swarming the stores of luxury-brand products.
“The swift recovery can be attributed to consumers’ pent-up demand, or so-called revenge spending, especially by women shoppers,” Chin said.
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Boosted by cosmetics and luxury products, duty-free operators have been among the chief beneficiaries of the “high-heeled” economy. Consumers are easily lured by the lower prices at duty-free stores that are exempt from import tariffs, consumption taxes and value-added taxes.
The central government has launched new policies for duty-free shops on Hainan Island, including raising the annual shopping quota per consumer and removing the single-item duty-free allowance cap, which could further spur female consumption.
Women’s spending power is not limited to these sectors. They are also the biggest drivers of new business models in the internet economy as they’re more active online, interacting with brands and communities
Women’s spending power is not limited to these sectors. They are also the biggest drivers of new business models in the internet economy as they’re more active online, interacting with brands and communities.
“The ‘she economy’ offers immense opportunities for brands and retailers in the consumer market. Staying relevant and appealing to female consumers is the key to success in the market,” Chin said.
Catering to women’s pursuit of self-identity, retailers are sparing no effort in running women-targeted sales campaigns to attract female consumers. Gyms are pushing memberships with such slogans as “It only takes three months to become a queen”, while skin-care brands launched commercials that focused on women’s self-confidence.
“These sales campaigns are telling women they’re not good enough. All problems will be solved when they become stronger, better and prettier. And the way to improve themselves is to raise their consumer spending power,” said Mimiyana, a feminist activist. She believes it’s a false promise of consumerism that increasing financial ability and spending power could tilt the scales when it comes to gender inequality.
“Women could realize their self-awareness through consumption, but it is only individual empowerment. The situation of all women and the current social structure will not be improved by individual empowerment,” Mimiyana said.
Feminist groups urged Chinese women to go the extra mile to combat practical problems, such as sexual harassment and domestic violence, instead of seeing shopping power as the silver bullet in their quest for higher status in the community.
Dai Jinhua, a feminist cultural critic and professor of Chinese literature and culture at Peking University, said in an interview in August she did not believe human rights and social equality can be attained naturally from economic development.
“I also won’t believe we could see social progress and women’s status being upgraded through consumer power.”
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