Study: US shoppers outspend Chinese to restore luxury market

Finance and Business

FILE – A woman walks past a shop in Monte Napoleone street in Milan, Italy, on Oct. 20, 2016. The personal luxury market of high-end accessories, leather goods and apparel has snapped back to pre-pandemic levels as U.S. shoppers outspent the Chinese in pursuit of the latest fashion trends, according to a new study released Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, by the Bain consultancy. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

MILAN (AP) — The personal luxury market of high-end accessories, leather goods and apparel has snapped back to pre-pandemic levels as U.S. shoppers outspent those in China in pursuit of the latest fashion trends, according to a study released Thursday by the Bain consultancy.

Global consumer spending on personal luxury goods, including the latest sneaker trend or design collaboration, is forecast to spike by 29% this year, to 283 billion euros ($325 billion). That’s a return to 2019 levels and a turnaround from the gloom of the 2020 pandemic lockdowns that shuttered stores and halted international travel. The recovery is expected to be supported by a strong holiday shopping season, Bain said.

“We are pretty positive, even if the growth rate in particular in China has been slowing down since mid-August. But they are still very strong,’’ said Claudia D’Arpizio, the Bain partner who headed up the study. “There has been a sharp V-shaped recovery for personal goods.”

The larger global luxury market, which extends to high-end travel, dining, fine art and furnishings, continues to lag 2019 levels, Bain said.

Consumers have shifted spending to high-quality furnishings, as many have been spending time at home instead of globe-trotting, while travel restrictions have been especially hard on luxury hotels, fine dining and cruises, all sectors that have yet to fully recover.

Global luxury comprehensively is expected to reach 1.1 trillion euros ($1.26 trillion) this year, which is about 10% below 2019 levels. The hardest-hit sector is luxury cruises, with spending down 80% from pre-pandemic levels and reduced even from 2020. Still, strong bookings for 2022 offer “glimmers of hope,’’ D’Arpizio said.

With international tourism still hampered, consumers have started picking up their new fashion trends at home, instead of fueling duty-free sales abroad.

U.S. consumers have at least temporarily supplanted the Chinese as the biggest spenders, accounting for one-third of all sales this year, compared with about 23% by Chinese shoppers, who were on par with Europeans. That trend is expected to invert by 2025, with nearly half of all spending by Chinese consumers, just over 20% by Americans and 18% by Europeans.

Bain forecasts that tourism will rebound by the end of next year to mid-2023, but D’Arpizio said she expects the pandemic will have established new habits, with luxury shoppers doing a lot of spending at home, not necessarily abroad.

“We expect tourists to come back. We don’t expect them to be as relevant as before,’’ she said.

The pandemic also has accelerated the shift to online shopping and reinforced the predominance of bigger brands in the marketplace, while encouraging the use of collaborations and digital campaigns to grab attention.

“The pandemic is widening the gap. We now see clear winners and losers. Bigger bands have more muscle,’’ D’Arpizio said.

In this way, they have exploited connections within larger conglomerates, like the Gucci and Balenciaga tie-up between the two brands owned by French group Kering.

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