An army of young women dubbed the “little sisters” is fast becoming a driving force of spending in China, boosting the fortunes of companies selling everything from beer and liquor to streaming TV shows and cosmetics.
They are well-educated, and are delaying or just skipping marriage and motherhood, giving them more money and the confidence to spend. Meanwhile these “little sisters” see themselves reflected in popular TV shows – like the summer hit Sisters Who Make Waves – that encourage them to kick back and splurge on themselves.
As such, “little sisters” are an increasingly important segment of China’s female consumers, who among all age groups account for three out of four purchases in the world’s most populated country, according to a report by Frost and Sullivan.
“The rising power of well-educated city women in their 20s to 40s is now a hit genre in Chinese mainland TV series and entertainment shows,” said Wendy Liu, a Hong Kong-based strategist at UBS Group and author of a new note on what she calls the “little sisters” economy.
“Collectively, their rising disposable income and aspirations for the ‘good life’ have had a strong impact on demand for cosmetics, duty-free, health care, and mobile games/internet content. More importantly, the ‘little sister’ economy may impact spending by families and children across the spectrum” of e-commerce and entertainment etc,” she said.
These “little sisters” will lead to booms in sectors spanning from make-up and athleisure to food, beverages and home appliances, according to UBS and HSBC Holdings.
“Women are also increasingly working, having a greater say in household spending decisions, and spending more on themselves,” said Herald van der Linde, head of equity strategy at HSBC in Hong Kong. “Clearly women are becoming very relevant and important consumers.”
Their power is believed to be at least part of the reason behind share surges in such companies as Proya Cosmetics, which has jumped 110 percent this year, and China Tourism Group Duty Free, the nation’s biggest operator of the duty-free shops, which has surged 148 percent.
And their power is not simply in the traditionally women-dominated niche sectors, like cosmetics.
Women already account for 60 percent of China’s 4.6 trillion yuan catering market, according to Industrial Securities, while beer consumption by women increased a whopping 27 percent in July from a year earlier, data by Wanlian Securities showed.
They are even taking a liking to baijiu, the potent Chinese liquor that has long been the domain of male consumers. Women bought a third of Kweichow Moutai’s high-end flagship liquors that were sold on Tmall, the e-commerce platform by Alibaba Group, on the midyear promotional day in June. That was an increase of 12 percent from a year earlier.
Changing behaviours are leading to women having higher incomes and decision power, according to HSBC. Chinese households have an average of 3.03 people, with the wealthy provinces at 2.78 and the developing areas at 3.10, HSBC data showed. Japan has the smallest households of 2.33 people on average in Asia.
“That means more income for each household, with fewer people in it, leaving consumers better off and able to ‘trade up’ on items, from beer to sports clothing,” said van der Linde at HSBC. “This is particularly the case in China, with the rise of ‘empty-nesters’– couples with adult children residing elsewhere – who have money to spend.”
The recent move by the government to loosen control over duty-free franchise licenses will further spur female consumption, making luxury goods exempt from taxes and therefore cheaper, according to Orient Securities. Sales at the duty-free shop on Hainan island surged by almost 150 percent in May, it said.
“Women are playing multi roles in social life and they are also the leading consumers in pursuit of better brands, designs, experiences, services and even environmental protection,” said JD.com in a report. “Women are playing a more and more important role in consumption upgrade.”