"What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest."
- Andy Warhol

Warhol’s famous quote comes as no surprise when describing American consumerism. Interestingly, it has become apparent in a study, by Ian Phau and Min Teah of Curtin University of Technology in Perth that 151 out of 202 consumers surveyed, "admitted buying counterfeit luxury items" in Shanghai (Economist). This means that approximately three out of every four shoppers asked admitted to buying counterfeit items. This provides some interesting insight into the nature of consumerism in China today.

The reportedly high number of shoppers buying imitation goods in China suggests that the retail industry within China is unpredictable at the moment. The study indicates that consumers in China associate status and wealth with brands, and emulating this image is more important to them than necessarily the quality of the items they are purchasing. The research carried out by Phau and Teah also indicates that buying habits in China are fickle and changeable; an idea which may contradict preconceived perceptions of the consumer goods and retail industry in this region.

Moreover, the study also gives us a clearer picture of the magnitude of the counterfeit goods industry. The report presents the idea of potential growing danger for the manufacturing and retail industries, not just in China, but globally as well, as it suggests the Chinese consumer’s lack of faith in both foreign and internal brands. Equally, there is a real danger for these brands—imitation goods are flooding the market—and it is indicated within the study, that shoppers are unable to tell the difference between a genuine brand and a fake. It may be that the consumer cannot tell the difference, or more worryingly, that the average contemporary consumer in China does not differentiate between the authentic and the fake product.  

Overall, this appears to be a pre-existing problem in China, and one its market has learned to cope with. However, the counterfeit goods industry as ever damages the global retail industry, and moreover the brands it attempts to emulate. The study is relevant as it offers a momentary glimpse into the buying habits of consumers in China, potential implications fo rthe global consumer goods and retail industries, and an ongoing look into a market which is still relatively ambiguous.

This article was written by Helen Langley of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

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