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Are Chinese big spenders? In Chinese cities not being disturbed and staying alone during holidays is more difficult than people might think because all the shopping malls and restaurants, both big and small, remind people of the special occasion. Zhang Heping / For China Daily
Sales bring festive joy to traders from shops and mall owners to eateries
Days before the end of 2012, 19-year-old college student Wang Xiao planned to celebrate the new year holiday with her close friends.
Wang went to a Thai restaurant on New Year's Eve for dinner with her friends and then to the countdown to midnight at The Place, a shopping center in Beijing that has a huge TV screen on its ceiling.
"Although Christmas and New Year are traditionally Western holidays that are not as important as Chinese Lunar New Year holiday to Chinese people, they are important for me. I must spend some happy hours with good friends," said Wang.
Instead of enjoying spicy food, Fang Wen, a 22-year-old white collar worker, had a theme party on Christmas eve.
"I invited some of my co-workers and college room mates to come over for a party," she said.
In contrast, 36-year-old IT manager Qu Jian skipped big dinners and festive gatherings to go shopping during the holiday to "reward myself".
"I was too tied up most days last year so I felt like burning some money to cheer myself up. Plus there are holiday sales," said Qu.
Worldwide, only 9 percent of people planned to sleep through the dawn of the new year. The other 91 percent planned to be doing something to celebrate the ringing in of 2013, according to a recent poll by the Paris-based research company Ipsos.
Many people were expecting a social evening. Four in 10 (39 percent) intended to have a gathering of close friends or family. Two in 10 (22 percent) planned to go to the home of a friend or family member to count down the new year. One in 10 (11 percent) intended to go out to a special place or gathering to watch fireworks, while 6 percent intended to go out to a restaurant for a special dinner, said the report.
"In Chinese cities such as Beijing, not being disturbed and staying alone during holidays is more difficult than people might think because all the shopping malls and restaurants, both big and small, remind you of the special occasion," said Qu.
The entrance to Yansha Youyi Shopping City, also known as Beijing Lufthansa Center, was decorated with neon lights spelling out "Merry Christmas" in nine languages and staff gave out free chocolate and imported wine to customers who spent more than 10,000 yuan ($1,603) a day.
Oriental Plaza was decorated with white arches on the front door. Door handles were wrapped with gold-colored cloth.
"Christmas and new year in China are more of a commercialized celebration. Many people are willing to go out, celebrating or giving gifts," said Guan Shijie, an expert on cross-cultural communication at Peking University. "That's why many department stores and supermarkets followed the trend."
A manager of a 7-Eleven said the convenience store had sold many Christmas cakes, with prices ranging from 98 yuan to 198 yuan, especially strawberry and Tiramisu cakes. "We started booking in mid-November. The sales have been great," he said.
Beijing Kempinski Hotel held a Christmas buffet for 558 yuan per head, which staff said was very successful. The buffet served dozens of Chinese and Western meals, including lobster salad, steak, raw salmon and roast turkey. The five-star hotel also introduced a dinner buffet on New Year's Eve at 688 yuan. Reservations were said to have been "vigorous".
"The holiday is very, very big for us because most of our sales come from holiday promotions," said Wang Yan, manager of a Laox store in Beijing.
Located off the South Third Ring Road, the Laox store has four floors and an area of more than 12,000 square meters. The store not only provides home appliances and electronics but also offers goods such as musical instruments, clocks, watches, daily commodities, jewelry and household supplies.
Laox is a Japanese home electronics chain that sells popular items including digital cameras and iPads. Suning Appliance Co, China's largest home appliance retailer by sales revenue, is its biggest shareholder. The first Laox store entered the Chinese mainland in Nanjing in 2011. Currently it has eight shops in the country.
Wang said sales by the store reached 5 million yuan in just one day during the National Day holiday, when sales accounted for around 50 to 60 percent of the entire monthly target.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, consumer spending over last year's seven-day Lunar New Year holiday, which was the biggest spending season of the year, surged year-on-year by 19 percent to 404.5 billion yuan, or roughly $61.3 billion, last year.
In addition, during the National Day holiday, from Sept 30 to Oct 7, the combined sales of major retail and catering enterprises in the country rose year-on-year by 15 percent to 801 billion yuan, said the Commerce Ministry.
"For the new year holiday, we put a huge Christmas tree outside the store, had our sales people dress up as Santas and introduced big sales promotions," said Wang from Laox. She believed sales would not be disappointing.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, retail sales in China grew 14.2 percent year-on-year to 18.68 trillion yuan in the first 11 months of last year.
Urban consumption expanded 15 percent from a year earlier to 1.6 trillion yuan in November, while the catering sector reported 211.5 billion yuan in revenue in November, up 14.2 percent year-on-year, said the statistics bureau.
China has already overtaken Italy, Japan, France and the United Kingdom in terms of international tourist spending. In 2010, the average travel spending per capita by Chinese visitors to the United States was $6,243, followed by India at $6,131 and Brazil at $4,940, while European countries peaked at $3,132 on average.
The World Luxury Association says China's appetite for luxuries is growing faster than that of any other country. China will become the largest luxury goods market and its sales volume will reach $14.6 billion in the next few years.
"When did Chinese people end their 'saving for a rainy day' reputation and lose the virtue of thriftiness? And when did consumption and luxury spending become terms of recommendation?" asked TV anchor Liang Dong.
Sun Shijin, director of the Psychology Research Center at Fudan University in Shanghai, said: "As China has achieved new heights in its economy and its society recently entered an era of mass consumption, the purchasing power of Chinese citizens has begun to rise along with the development of the commodity economy. People sometimes lose their sense of reason when they pursue a material life. Conspicuous consumption during a period of social transition is an inevitable process of social development."
As investment and exports cooled down in recent years, the Chinese government called for an increase in domestic consumption to maintain economic growth. Beijing plans to hit 30 billion yuan from customer spending by the end of 2015 with a year-on-year increase of 15 percent.
Perhaps the answer to Liang's question partly lies in the book The Wealth of Nations by the Scotish economist Adam Smith. In it, he states: "Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer."
(China Daily 01/07/2013 page15)