A problem as old as humanity has been solved. We all need to know how we look with a full face of make-up; but we are too lazy to apply it. L'Oréal's Makeup Genius app allows users to try different looks without getting messy. Among the most enthusiastic adopters of this breakthrough? The Chinese.
This is not the only area where the Chinese shopper is leading. In 2013, China's ecommerce market overtook that of the US, according to a PwC and EIU report, and more than half of China's internet shoppers are now mobile. Yet overall retail growth has been slowing, and even ecommerce bellwether, US-listed Alibaba, is showing the strain. This week the company cut its top line outlook for the coming quarter, saying that the total value of goods sold will only grow in the mid-single digits.
It is tempting to interpret Alibaba's caution as a sign of broader malaise. It could, however, be that e-consumers' tastes are simply changing. Chinese millennials, those born since the 1980s, are particularly influential in this regard — and this influence will grow. Those aged 16 to 35 make up nearly a third of China's population. They outnumber the same cohort in the US by five times. Although they command less aggregate spending power than their US peers, Goldman Sachs estimates that over the next decade the income of this group will grow by $3tn.
They are not buying the same items as their parents. More young Chinese choose experience and lifestyle expenditure over tangible status goods; travel and entertainment, for instance, are increasingly popular. Expenditure on "fun" is still less than a tenth of total outlay, compared with around a sixth in the US and Japan. This suggests that companies such as US-listed online travel companies Ctrip and Qunar and mall developer Dalian Wanda — which emphasises entertainment in its shopping centres — stand to benefit. L'Oréal should, too: on a night out, virtual make-up is no substitute for the real thing.