PARIS, France — Luxury brands will increasingly have to court Chinese shoppers on their home turf, as local purchases soar among a clientele who are forecast to generate nearly half the industry's sales by 2025, a study showed on Thursday.
Global sales of personal luxury goods like handbags and watches are on course to grow 6 percent at constant currencies this year, on par with 2017, according to consultancy Bain and Italian manufacturers association Altagamma's report, which valued the market at 260 billion euros ($294 billion) in 2018.
That pace will slow in the medium term to 3 to 5 percent per year, they forecast, with potential "bumps" along the way like the risk of a US recession or an easing pace of China's economic growth.
But leaving aside worries about a Sino-US trade war's impact on high-end labels, Chinese consumers will continue to grow in stature for the luxury industry.
Accounting for 33 percent of purchases now, they will anchor 46 percent of the market by 2025, the report said.
Half of those sales are forecast to take place within China by then, up from a quarter today, against the backdrop of a global industry landscape that for the most part remains benign.
"The market fundamentals are very sound," Federica Levato, a partner at Bain, said. "There could be some slight slowdown in the near future, in the next 12 to 18 months, [but] we don't think this will distract brands from a very solid market."
At one of the fastest-growing labels, Italy's Gucci, some 45 percent of Chinese clients' purchases already take place domestically, executives at parent Kering detailed in October.
Narrowing price differentials compared with other regions for goods like handbags, import tax cuts by Beijing and spikes in the euro against the yuan have all helped to repatriate spending.
Luxury items cost 70 or 80 percent more in China than in Europe as recently as 2015, Levato said, with the average premium closer to 25 or 30 percent now.
Habits are evolving rapidly as a result, with Chinese tourists no longer visiting fashion capitals like Paris just to pick up bargains.
"They are now traveling for the experience. Of course they will also buy luxury goods, but it's not the first driver of traveling," Levato said.
Rather than open more shops, brands are expanding online in China and considering partnerships with Chinese e-commerce giants like Alibaba and JD.com to reach potential consumers in far-flung cities.
In China and beyond, the dominance of ever-younger consumers is pushing labels to invest in social media marketing or churn out collections more often to cater to the smartphone generation who are used to shopping differently.
Millennials, or those now roughly aged between 22 and 37, and Gen Z right behind them, were the exclusive drivers of global sales growth in 2018, Bain said.
From around a third of the market now, those younger shoppers are forecast to account for some 55 percent of revenues by 2025.
The shifting age profile of luxury buyers is also reflected in sliding footfall in department stores, one sales channel that lost ground in 2018, while online shopping picked up.
In China, luxury sales at constant currencies are on course to grow 20 percent in 2018 from 2017, but momentum has been weaker in Europe and the United States, where luxury goods sales are forecast to expand 3 percent and 5 percent respectively.
By Sarah White and Pascale Denis; editor: Jane Merriman