Services drive consumer market momentum

Chinese shoppers have gradually unleashed their pent-up consumption demand after the pandemic, with the recovery of offline consumption scenarios.


A shopper buys groceries at a supermarket in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province. GENG YUHE/FOR CHINA DAILY

April 21, 2023

BEIJING – China’s consumer market is gradually recovering and gaining growth momentum, with services-related consumption rebounding significantly in the first three months amid the optimized COVID-19 containment measures, officials and experts said.

They also said more efforts should be made to increase household incomes, stabilize employment and cultivate new consumption growth points by leveraging cutting-edge digital technologies to whet purchasing appetites and unleash consumption potential.

Their comments came after data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that China’s retail sales, a vital consumption indicator, rose 5.8 percent year-on-year to 11.49 trillion yuan ($1.67 trillion) in the first quarter, reversing the 2.7 percent decline logged in the fourth quarter of 2022.

In March alone, retail sales jumped 10.6 percent year-on-year, 7.1 percentage points higher than that in the first two months, the NBS said.

NBS spokesman Fu Linghui said that since the beginning of the year, consumption has shown a recovery momentum, and offline, in-person, brick-and-mortar consumption as well as services-related consumption including catering, entertainment and tourism have seen a strong rebound in the first three months.

Catering sector revenue surged 13.9 percent year-on-year to 1.21 trillion yuan in the first quarter, said the NBS.

Fu highlighted that consumption is playing an increasingly prominent role in driving economic development, contributing to 66.6 percent of China’s growth in the first quarter. Moreover, online consumption remained a bright spot as online retail sales rose 8.6 percent on a yearly basis in the January-March period.

With the optimization of COVID-19 response measures, the confidence of both consumers and market entities has been further boosted, and services-based consumption segments that were hard hit by the pandemic have recovered at a faster pace, said Wang Yun, a researcher at the Academy of Macroeconomic Research, which is affiliated with the National Development and Reform Commission.

Wang expects China’s consumer sector to maintain growth momentum in the second quarter, with the overall growth rate reaching more than 6 percent in 2023, adding more efforts should be made to stabilize employment and improve household incomes.

Chinese shoppers have gradually unleashed their pent-up consumption demand, with the recovery of offline consumption scenarios, with retail, catering, tourism and accommodations gathering pace, said Zhou Maohua, an analyst at China Everbright Bank.

Consumption recovery becomes the main force boosting the nation’s economic rebound this year, experts said, adding that the continued optimization of COVID-19 containment policies will significantly bolster consumption growth and stimulate demand for travel and spending this year.

The tone-setting Central Economic Work Conference in mid-December said that China will focus on boosting domestic demand by prioritizing the recovery and expansion of consumption in 2023.

Zhao Ping, deputy head of the Academy of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, called for more efforts to encourage enterprises to use next-generation information technologies — such as big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence — to create new types of green and intelligent consumer goods and cultivate new consumption growth points.

“We expect China’s economic growth in 2023 to be much higher than that of the previous year, mainly driven by consumption,” said Robin Xing, chief China economist with Morgan Stanley, while expressing optimism that services-related consumption will grow this year.

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