In a culture where guanxi is the lifeblood of business, there is still no better way to cement business relationships than giving luxury gifts during Chinese New Year despite further government crackdown, including the recent ban on luxury ads on state radio and television stations.

Multinational and domestic brands alike are capitalizing on this gift-giving frenzy with year of the snake-designed products. But foreign brands may be the more popular gift choice largely because of the prestige factor.

“Chinese New Year is a time to show respect for people, which is why foreign luxury brands perform best during this occasion,” according to Shuan Rein, Managing Director of China Market Research Group. The popularity of Western-originated gifts is confirmed by theChinese Luxury Survey 2013 from Hurun Report. According to the report, the top ten brands to give were foreign-owned. Gucci, Montblanc, and Burberry were among the top gifted brands.

Apple’s recent release of the iPhone 5 and the iPad mini are hot gift items, particularly among men.  January is usually a quiet month for the electronics giant in the West, so Apple is featuring “red gift guides” on their Chinese website to drum up more Chinese New Year sales.

Food products continue to be one of the most common gift choices. Western food & beverage brands Nespresso and Godiva are popular items. Godiva is offering a limited edition Black Tea Year of the Snake ganache, which is available in select boutiques.

While there are signs that Beijing’s “frugal” campaign is already hurting luxury sales, Rein is not worried for this gift-giving season– he suggests that the types of gift will simply shift.  Rather than giving flashy watches that can be photographed and made infamous across Weibo, gifters will go for more hidden items, such as wallets or pens.

Rein also believes that more cultural categories of gift giving, such as herbs and medicine, will re-emerge, especially among the business set. Traditional packages of deer antler, ginseng, and shark fin, are conspicuously expensive but can be consumed in the privacy of the home and may indicate a subtle shift to more Chinese-oriented gifts.

Alcohol is another popular gift and since it is a consumable item, it makes a great “hidden” gift. Although domestic brand Moutai has lost some luster falling to #13 on Hurun’s list of favorite brands to give, French wine maker Chateau Lafite moved into the top 10, a sign of the growing interest in wine among Chinese luxury consumers. Cognac maker Martell released a Chinese New Year limited edition Cohiba Cognac, a tribute to Cuba’s top cigar brand.

During this Chinese New Year season, gift preferences may all depend on who you are.  The ultra-wealthy will opt for well-known multinational luxury brands as they convey status and affluence.  Meanwhile, the burgeoning middle class would rather spend on more consumable goods, while buying foreign brands for themselves.  Those gifting government officials this year may best go with more hidden gifts or alcohol due to new scrutiny.  Ironically, despite the traditional nature of Chinese New Year, Western-originated gifts are highly favored.


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