Weak job markets and government tax policies have placed huge constraints on consumers in this traditionally powerful sector. But emerging markets are riding to the rescue. Higher standards of living are empowering shoppers to demand more in regards to quality and style.
The mainland is set to be a key market for the industry. Many far-sighted Hong Kong garment companies entered the mainland market years ago and have since consolidated and built sound reputations there.
With many Hong Kong brands widely recognised and accepted by mainland consumers, they can build on rising demand. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council conducted surveys on mainland garment consumption in 2001, 2002 and 2008. A survey of 13 mainland cities was also carried out last year to understand the latest consumer patterns for clothing, and advantages for Hong Kong brands.
The 13 cities covered in the survey during the first quarter of the year were Nanjing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Harbin, Shenyang, Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Wuhan, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou and Xian. Some 3,250 consumers were interviewed, including employees, housewives and students who had lived in the surveyed cities for at least two years and purchased garments in the 12 months prior to the survey.
The main reasons given by respondents for buying clothes were for practical necessity and seasonal changes, but there were also more subtle motivations. Many made purchases because of discount offers or to keep up with fashion trends.
Many Hong Kong brands are widely recognised and accepted by mainland consumers. The selection criteria for buying clothes were, first and foremost, quality, followed by reasonable prices and trendy styles. In some cities, consumers were particularly concerned that a clothing brand’s image had to be appropriate or tasteful.
Overall, mainland respondents were particularly influenced by domestic fashion trends, while the impact of fashion elsewhere was not considered of great importance. Among the cities surveyed, Shanghai, Shenyang and Xian were more influenced by external fashion trends than others. In the 12 months prior to the survey, the average annual spending on garments was Rmb2, 635 per person.
Spending in each city was generally proportionate to per capita income. The clothing budget over the 12-month period was Rmb3, 616 per person. In fact, consumers in all cities except Guangzhou expected to increase their clothes spending. In Tianjin, Chongqing, Hangzhou and Xian, in particular, the expected increase in spending was more than 60 per cent.
As to their clothes-buying habits, mainland consumers tend to visit stores, with almost 70 per cent heading there at least once a month. Shopping times are mainly during weekends and public holidays. Department stores are the most popular places to shop; the main reasons are the expected wide variety of brands, a pleasant shopping environment and personal recommendations.
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