Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

'Louis Vuitton or Gucci?' A Study into the Internet's Role in Influencing Chinese Overseas Students' Luxury Consumption Behaviour and Identity Construction

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

'Louis Vuitton or Gucci?' A Study into the Internet's Role in Influencing Chinese Overseas Students' Luxury Consumption Behaviour and Identity Construction

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

'At the core of this newfound wealth and status was the honest pursuit of better living conditions. Better living conditions meant for higher quality products and upscale brands.'

-Pierre Xiao Lu. 2011

The traditional belief is that luxury and prestige fashion goods are considered as a privilege for consumers at the top end of the wealth scale (Riley & Lacroix 2003). As explained by Nueno and Quelch (1998), the word luxury was applied to products, services, or resources, that were rare and scarce, which were only limited to a selected few. However, due to the influence of social and business factors (Silverstein and Fiske 2004), changes are taking place and the contemporary trend is that high-end products are gradually consumed on a mass level worldwide and becoming more affordable, especially for middle class consumers. Therefore, in response to the changes of the luxury goods market, the concept of luxury needs to be redefined. For example, Okonkwo (2005: 1) considered that luxury products are mostly "sensory goods because their aesthetic characteristics are best appreciated through the utilisation of the human senses of sign, touch, and feel". Alternatively, Twitchell (2003: 43) defines luxury as "things you have that you think you should not have".

Specifically, luxury consumption is deeply rooted in China's cultural and value system, and is growing in unprecedented popularity. As suggested by Lu (2011), China has recently become the world's second largest market for luxury products with an annual increase of more than 30%, even surpassing Japan. Further statistics reveal that China will eventually overtake the U.S. and become the largest upscale products market in the world. According to Understanding China 's Growing Love for Luxury (Atsmon et al. 2011), a market report conducted by McKinsey Company, three factors attributed to this phenomenon. First, along with the accumulation of China's economic wealth, symbolic representation of being affluent and having high social status is becoming more and more acceptable for the Chinese as a social norm. Secondly, the Chinese start to have a better understanding of international luxury brands largely due to the online information explosion, as well as an increasing number of Chinese' frequent overseas trips. Third, the urbanization of China is taking place in an unprecedented rate, and many foreign countries share a growing interest in tapping into China's luxury market due to its great unexplored potential.

Taking into consideration of China's growing appetite for luxury goods, several scholars, including Pierre Xiao Lu, came up with the belief that "there is a homogenous identity and behavioural patterns that come with new wealth" (2011). Lu (2011) further claims that "international luxury brands perfectly fulfil the needs of Chinese mainland consumers from all angles - cultural, social and economic - attributing for a more modem, powerful, and self-confident approach to life". Additionally, specific features regarding Chinese luxury consumers should be noticed. On the one hand, the average age of Chinese luxury consumers are the youngest worldwide. For instance, whereas only 28% of luxury consumers in Western Europe are younger than 35 years old, this percentage is as high as 45% in China (Atsmon et al. 2011). On the other hand, due to high luxury tax and limited selection in mainland China, many affluent Chinese choose to purchase upscale products abroad, which leads to an increasing possible outflow of luxury consumption in China.

Moreover, international Chinese students in the United Kingdom, as a group of young consumers with relatively affluent financial backgrounds and easy access to high-end products (Yao 2004), share the characteristics of typical Chinese luxury consumers and can be considered as one group of potential luxury consumers. Besides, whereas McKinsey's 2011 report viewed the exploding online information as a major element for causing China's luxury fever, Chinese overseas students, as China's younger generation, possess advanced online technology and actively participate in the virtual domain, using applications such as social networking sites (SNSs), online forums and online shopping (McMillan & Morrison 2006). …

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