With Beijing unwavering in its zero-COVID policy, luxury is at a crossroads: How can it connect with an increasingly remote China? Jing Daily offers an indispensable guide to the country’s lesser-known destinations by highlighting the key figures, consumer insights, and retail properties that make them luxury’s next big opportunity.
Look to the southwest and you’ll find China’s biggest city. Home to over 32 million people, Chongqing spans an area the size of South Carolina. The metropolis in Sichuan province sits at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers, and is best known for its rugged terrain and spicy hotpot.
Yet, Chongqing is often overlooked by luxury brands. Described as “the biggest city you’ve never heard of,” the industrial base only began developing in 1997 and could be likened to the US’ Rust Belt. To its west is Chengdu, which hosts high-end shopping malls like IFS and Taikoo Li, and to the north is Xi’an, a travel hotspot that attracts shoppers from China’s interior.
Overshadowed by its neighbors, Chongqing has not historically been luxury’s first choice for entering the mainland or even the southwest market. But this just means that there is ample room for growth. And between the local government’s plans to turn the city into an international consumption center and high-end shopping malls expanding their footprint, Chongqing’s luxury retail seems to have a promising future.
Will your luxury footprint include it?
- When it comes to luxury malls and openings, Chongqing is overshadowed by its neighbor Chengdu, meaning it has ample luxury potential.
- With a 32 million-strong population, Chongqing ranks 19th in disposable income among major Chinese cities and third in luxury consumption.
- Among Chongqing’s luxury shoppers are successful KOLs. Creating content around the local cuisine, lifestyle, and attractions, these influencers help bring more attention to the southwest city as a travel and luxury destination.
- The Mixc is on track to become Chongqing’s largest shopping mall in revenue and size, reporting sales of 5 billion RMB ($750 million) in 2021 and announcing plans to expand by 2023. Of the 300 brands housed there, one-third of them entered Chongqing for the first time.
Chongqing’s key statistics
- 2.78 trillion RMB ($409.37 billion) in 2021, a 8.3 percent year-on-year increase
- 5th largest GDP among major municipalities in China (2021)
- 32.05 million (reported May 2021). 21.12 million, or 65.9 percent of the total population, reside in the metropolitan area.
- 1st most populous city in China. However, this is due to the fact that Chongqing encompasses an area that is about 82,000 square kilometers (about 31,800 square miles), the size of a small province. Chongqing’s metropolitan population would put it at the 3rd or 4th most populous city in China.
- Ranked No. 18 in the nation in producing rich people (Hurun Wealth Report 2021)
- Ranked 7th in the nationwide fashion consumption index in 2021 (by the China Chain-Store & Franchise Association)
- Ranked 3rd among Chinese cities in luxury consumption in 2019, contributing 3.7 percent of total luxury spending, right behind Beijing and Shanghai (Deloitte & Secoo)
Average disposable income
- 33,803 RMB ($5,008) per capita disposable income (2021)
- 11th highest per capita disposable income among China’s 31 provinces (2021)
- 19th highest per capita disposable income among major Chinese cities (2020)
- Big name luxury houses have stores in the high-end shopping malls of Chongqing, such as Paradise Walk Shopping Mall, International Finance Square, and The Mixc.
- Notably, Chongqing has yet to host any Chanel fashion or accessories stores, a fact highlighted by many luxury consumers in the city. Currently, there are only Chanel fragrance and beauty stores in select malls.
Who are Chongqing’s luxury shoppers?
Although Chongqing is a popular local travel destination, few visit the metropolis just to purchase luxury items, mainly as many other Chinese cities, such as Chengdu and Xi’an, have superior luxury offerings. As such, Chongqing’s luxury shoppers are mostly wealthy local residents: owners and managers of prominent industrial enterprises and their children, high-earning executives in the finance industry, members of the rising middle class, and successful KOLs.
Although high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) are the backbone of Chongqing’s luxury consumption, significant internal differences exist. Jing Daily’s interviews suggest that Chongqing’s wealthy office workers would rather visit luxury stores in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, or Shenzhen where there is better product selection, or purchase luxury goods at a cheaper price when they visit Hong Kong or other overseas cities, than shop locally.
In contrast, Chongqing’s upper middle class and KOLs — who travel less frequently because their content centers around Chongqing’s cuisine, lifestyle, and places of interests — are more likely to visit local stores.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic might have inadvertently promoted Chongqing’s luxury consumption. Given the strict domestic and international travel restrictions, more and more Chongqing HNWIs are turning to local shops to satiate their luxury desires. Meanwhile, the city’s ability to attract KOLs could bring more attention to its luxury sector on popular lifestyle platforms such as Xiaohongshu and Poizon.
With the Chongqing government aiming to make the city an international consumption center, luxury retail has a promising future there.
The Mixc 万象城 shopping mall in Chongqing opened in 2014 and is the seventh Mixc mall in China. Located in a former industrial zone, The Mixc is 350,000 square meters (3.77 million square feet) large and hosts over 300 brands, over 100 of which entered Chongqing for the first time. Attracting over 400,000 visitors and revenue of 15 million RMB ($2.25 million) on its first day of opening, The Mixc aims to be Chongqing’s largest high-end shopping mall.
The Mixc has a substantial luxury presence, most notably boasting the only Hermès store in Chongqing to date since 2016. Other luxury stores include Bulgari, Prada, Burberry, Cartier, Tiffany, Balenciaga, Moncler, and Ermegildo Zegna. Aside from traditional shopping, The Mixc also hosts events that highlight Chongqing’s historical and cultural heritage, such as photography exhibitions and fashion shows. In 2021, The Mixc reported a revenue of 5 billion RMB ($750 million), ranking No. 1 in Chongqing and No. 34 in the country by revenue. The Mixc plans to open a second mall in Chongqing in May 2023, which will increase its size to 530,000 square meters (5.7 million square feet).
The Chongqing International Finance Square (IFS), opened in 2017, is located at Chongqing’s Jiangbei CBD area. It is also owned by Hong Kong’s Wharf Holdings Limited and hosts the luxurious Niccolo Hotel. Chongqing IFS’ shopping complex is over 110,000 square meters (1.18 million square foot) large and houses 170 stores. Nearly 30 brands opened their first store in Chongqing at the IFS. Luxury names at Chongqing IFS include Dior, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Gucci, Valentino, Versace, Emporio Armani, Coach, Bottega Veneta, Dolce & Gabbana, and Qeelin.
While Chongqing IFS is not the largest high-end shopping mall in the city, its competitive advantage lies in its ability to meet the demands of a luxury lifestyle. Nestled in Chongqing’s CBD, where the city’s high-earning residents concentrate, Chongqing IFS can provide a comprehensive luxury experience to visitors with its fine dining restaurants, hotel, and other high-end facilities. Chongqing IFS’ ability to attract luxury brands also makes it a key to Chongqing’s luxury landscape; in 2020, Chongqing IFS generated 1.7 billion RMB ($260 million) in revenue, making it seventh among Chongqing’s shopping malls by revenue.
Chongqing Times Square
Chongqing Times Square is a 55,000 square meters (592,015 square feet) downtown shopping complex that is right next to Chongqing Liberation Monument, a landmark of metropolitan Chongqing. Formerly a department store, it went through an upgrade in 2011 and even hosted Chongqing’s first Louis Vuitton store before its doors eventually closed in 2021.
Currently, Chongqing Times Square offers luxury names such as Bulgari, Vacheron Constantin, Cartier, Piaget, and Emporio Armani. Although the complex’s investor, Hong Kong’s Wharf Holdings Limited, did not disclose its financial figures in the latest earnings report, online sources state that it had a revenue of 1.5 billion RMB ($220 million) in 2020, ranking ninth among Chongqing’s shopping malls by revenue. While Chongqing Times Square is not the leading luxury shopping destination in the city, its prime location still makes it an important player.
Starlight 68 opened for business in 2010, and is reputed to be Chongqing’s earliest shopping mall with a heavy focus on luxury brands. Starlight 68 is located at the busy Guanyinqiao commerce zone, which sees between 400,000 and 700,000 daily visitors on average. The mall has a retail area of 35,000 square meters (376,737 square feet) spread across four floors and hosts over 100 brands. Its luxury portfolio includes Louis Vuitton (which entered the mall after the Time Square store shut down), Emporio Armani, Cartier, Gucci, Bally, Van Cleef & Arpels, Loewe, Versace, Chopard, and Ermenegildo Zegna. Bulgari also sets up pop-up stores in Starlight 68.
In August 2021, Starlight 68 opened its brand new B section, containing Asia’s largest indoor cylindrical aquarium — standing at an impressive 8.3 meters tall and holding 1,500 tons of sea water. VIP customers can scuba dive in the tank, making it a Chongqing “check-in” place on social media. In 2020, Starlight 68 had a revenue of 1.6 billion RMB ($238 million), placing it at No. 8 among Chongqing’s malls in sales.
Paradise Walk is a series of shopping malls built by Chongqing’s real-estate conglomerate Longfor Group, which is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. There are currently six Paradise Walk malls in Chongqing, and two of them – the Shidai and Beicheng Paradise Walk malls – pull in the most money. In 2020, the Shidai and Beicheng Paradise Walk malls generated revenue of 3.8 billion RMB ($570 million) and 3.2 billion RMB ($480 million), respectively, the highest and the third-highest revenues among shopping malls in Chongqing.
However, Paradise Walk malls in Chongqing do not have as many luxury stores as The Mixc or the Chongqing IFS. Instead, they feature fast fashion and affordable luxury brands, such as Calvin Klein, Givenchy, UGG, Charles & Keith, I Do, Clarins, and Haydon. The fact that one of Chongqing’s largest, most popular shopping malls does not have substantial luxury presence suggests that Chongqing’s overall luxury purchasing power is not as high as its neighbor Chengdu, which is a major luxury hub in China. Nevertheless, entering Shidai or Beicheng Paradise Walk is still an ideal way for a brand to break into the local market.
What retailers say about Chongqing
“I established my (niche fashion) brand Hooyojim in Chongqing. My customers are mainly young men who have a high-fashion taste. Our pricing is lower than those of major luxury houses but higher than those of fast fashion brands. The greatest difficulty in establishing a brand is the supply chain. Compared to Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Guangzhou, Chongqing does not have much capacity to produce clothes, so the operating cost is much higher. Still, the benefit is that Chongqing is a livable and quiet city. It is also my hometown that I am very familiar with, which is ideal for me to take inspiration from.” —Yojim, Design director of Hooyojim
“Chongqing is a KOL city and commands a lot of traffic on the internet, so I think it is very suitable for it to develop into a fashion capital. Many KOLs are working here and have the purchasing power to buy luxury goods. The wealthy areas in Chongqing, such as Jiangbei and Yubei District, are very suitable for establishing a fashion business, and the citizens there have high spending power. For example, I have a friend who started her clothing boutique there, and several high-end customers like to buy clothes from her. The shop is also equipped with stylists to help buyers find what they want.” —Zhu Hang, Co-founder of DEmaxi(德马锡) Investment Bank
“Our [modeling] agency was founded in 1994. The modeling market is not very large in Chongqing, especially after the COVID pandemic. But it is worth noting that multiple independent designer brands have appeared in the city in recent years, and they have provided massive job opportunities to the modeling industry.” —Shi Hong, Director of the Agency Department of Chongqing Dazheng Model Company
What Chongqing residents say about luxury shopping
“Chongqing is well-known for its fashionable lifestyle and as a suitable place to enjoy life. Chongqing residents like to dress in fancy apparel for no particular reason. I think billionaires in Chongqing would buy luxury for daily outfits, middle-class residents would possess some iconic luxury items, while trendy young consumers would have a mix of clothing from niche brands and fast fashion brands.” –Lanqing Yang, High-end shopper, female, age 26
“The city is becoming more and more fashionable in recent years: it has many ‘check-in’ cafes and restaurants made popular by KOLs online, and the young generation enjoys spending time at these locations. Because of COVID-19, I started to purchase luxury items at local boutiques, but there are not enough selections. It is not easy for me to find what I want. For example, when I go shopping for a Rolex, there may only be ten watches on display at the store, and I have to make a reservation if I want to buy them, which gives me a subpar shopping experience.” –Wendy, High-end shopper, female, age 30
“Chongqing is not very suitable for hosting niche fashion brands because many local residents only cherish big name luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Dior. They do not have much understanding of niche brands. Meanwhile, the city lacks a mature fashion atmosphere, and few residents are willing to learn about fashion. Before the pandemic, I used to buy luxury items abroad due to their lower price. Now I occasionally purchase things in local luxury stores if they can provide excellent service.” –Yvonne, Fashion enthusiast, female, age 40
Although Chongqing is not yet a major luxury hub like Chengdu, Beijing, or Shanghai, retailers and residents show that the city has its own unique characteristics that make it ripe with retail opportunity.
Additional reporting and interviews by Emma Li