Emerging out of the sprawling cities that make up modern India is a luxury hub on the verge of greatness. Here, Fflur Roberts of Euromonitor investigates its true potential.
India is fast becoming one of the world’s major growth engines, with a rapidly growing population that is eager to spend. By 2025, the country is expected to have six global megacities and 41 major cities, all connected through corridors which will provide seamless transportation of luxury goods and services.
However, India still has challenges to overcome including a lack of resources and a complex bureaucracy. Nevertheless of all the big emerging markets, India looks to have the most promising growth potential for luxury goods in the next five years. For one thing, as a huge oil importer, its economy is getting a boost from lower oil prices.
“ Over the last five years, sales of luxury goods have grown faster in India than anywhere else in the world ”
Indeed over the last five years, sales of luxury goods have grown faster in India than anywhere else in the world, measured at fixed US dollar exchange rates. Its total luxury goods market size hit INR164 billion (US$2.6 billion fixed exchange rates) in 2015, which is bigger than in Turkey, Thailand and Argentina and is currently ranked 21st out of the 32 markets covered by Euromonitor International’s luxury goods research.
The fast growing luxury goods market is being spurred on not only by rising prosperity in the major cities but also by a power shift from the black market to the formal market.
Shoppers increasingly feel that the premium they have to pay in the formal retail sector is worth it, given that the products are guaranteed as authentic. For luxury watchmakers and jewellers, especially, India is a chance to tap into an opportunity potentially on the scale of China.
“ India is forecast to be the fastest growing economy amongst all EMEs ”
India is forecast to be the fastest growing economy amongst all EMEs with an expected real GDP growth of 7.3% in 2016, followed by China (6.4%), and Vietnam (6.0%). While India will see the fruitful results of reforms and improved economic fundamentals in 2016, China still faces the huge challenges of rebalancing its economy, adjusting resource allocation, and ensuring financial stability.
India’s economic gains were broadly based on both agriculture and industry performing strongly over the last five years. However, the pace of growth began to ease in 2012. Growth rates improved only in 2013 and 2014 but progress was still slowed as a result of problems in the world economy and domestic supply constraints. The pace of structural reform was also held back owing to political gridlock.
Both inflows of FDI and domestic investment fell in recent years. Investors were mainly concerned about India’s infrastructure deficit which continued to rise during this period. Urban planning is also problematic with constraints tightening in transport, sanitation, hotel accommodation, and other facilities typically sought by investors. New Delhi plans to invest US$137 billion in its ageing railway network in 2015-2020.
India is however on course to overtake China as the world’s fastest growing, large economy. New Delhi recently revised the national accounts, using 2012 as the base year. It is not yet clear how this move will alter estimated rates of growth and inter-country comparisons. By 2020, India’s consumer market could be approaching that of France.
Inflation was 6.4% in 2014 and prices rose to 5.8% in 2015. Consumers face fast-rising prices for staples such as basic foods. Inflation management, however, is made easier by the fall in oil and other commodity prices. The central bank has cut interest rates four times in 2015. Banking officials are hoping to kick-start a domestic investment recovery while lower energy costs, easier credit conditions and a gradually improving labour market support luxury spending.
Unemployment was 8.8% in 2014 and was set to fall to 8.3% in 2015. The country needs to grow by about 8% per annum to generate enough jobs for the estimated one million new job seekers entering the labour market monthly. About one-third of young adults are unemployed. According to the World Bank, at least 90% of all jobs are in the informal sector.
“ A huge & rapidly inflating population & strong economic growth have long made India a compelling luxury goods market ”
Young demographics, a huge and rapidly inflating population and strong economic growth have long made India a compelling luxury goods market. The Asian nation has maintained progress, with an extensive state investment programme set to drive commercial opportunities. While disposable incomes are increasing on the back of GDP gains, they remain among the lowest of the major Asia Pacific nations.
The 40-44 and 35-39 cohorts made up the two largest slices of the population in receipt of an annual gross income of US$150,000+ in 2014, comprising 19.2% and 19.0% of this income bracket respectively. These affluent middle-aged Indians are young enough to have mastered the skills to help them rise in their country’s burgeoning economy – for example, English language abilities, plus familiarity with IT and Western business tenets – and old enough to have attained some seniority in the workplace or built up substantial business interests.
The same two age bands will lead the uppermost gross income bracket in 2030, albeit with slightly diluted shares. By 2030, the 40-44 and 35-39 cohorts will respectively account for 17.7% and 17.2% of the population earning an annual gross income of US$150,000+. The total numbers of Indians in this gross income bracket will also soar throughout the forecast period, from 602,500 in 2014 to 1.6 million in 2030.
“ India offers some of the most dynamic growth potential in the Asiatic region, but its demographics are very different ”
India offers some of the most dynamic growth potential in the Asiatic region, but its demographics are very different to other neighbouring markets. The focus needs to be on attracting young, aspirational consumers.
While India is still the country with the most equal income distribution among the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), it is also the only one with rising income inequality. As the income gap widens, India could face the risks of rising poverty, growing non-income disparities and a shrinking middle class.
Income distribution in Brazil, China and Russia has improved during in the last 5 years, supported by government welfare programmes. China’s Gini index – a standard economic measure of income inequality with 0% indicating perfect equality and 100% indicating total inequality – went down from 49.0% in 2009 to 46.9% in 2014.
Brazil’s Gini index also declined from 50.9% in 2009 to 49.5% in 2014, but the country’s income inequality level was still the highest among the BRIC nations in that year, on the back of various factors including rapid industrialisation, labour surplus, and corruption.
Meanwhile India’s Gini index rose from 39.3% in 2009 to 41.0% in the same year. Despite the country’s economic rise, the income gap is widening due to existing hindrances to social equality and a lack of efficient income redistribution programmes.
Rising income inequality will affect India’s efforts to reduce poverty as well as affecting India’s social and human development and undermine the luxury goods business environment. Due to widespread poverty, India already lags behind other BRIC nations in terms of adult literacy, educational level and life expectancy.
Generally when we talk about personal luxury goods in India, we are predominantly talking about luxury jewellery. It fuelled a whopping 22% of all the country’s total luxury goods spending last year, compared with 11% in Japan and just 7% in China for example.
“ Growth in India’s luxury jewellery industry leads all global markets ”
Growth in India’s luxury jewellery industry leads all global markets and is trailed only by Malaysia and Canada in terms of double digit growth. But, what is driving the growth and will it continue at double-digit annual rates over the next five years.
Such dominance is indicative of a national obsession with gold that dates back centuries. Everything from celebrations of childbirth, to weddings and even funerals, is associated with bestowing gold as a gift. It is a tradition than crosses social classes, religious persuasions and demographics.
While India still ranks outside the top 15 markets in the world for luxury jewellery today, its rapid advance is unrelenting. It is on course to become a billion dollar category by 2020, according to forecast data from Euromonitor International, compared with total formal sales of just US$17 million a decade ago.
“ For global watchmakers & jewellers spooked by demand volatility in Asia Pacific, surging sales in India offer a welcome respite ”
For global watchmakers and jewellers spooked by demand volatility in Asia Pacific (in particular in Hong Kong and Mainland China), surging sales in India offer a welcome respite and a chance to harness a hugely profitable opportunity – potentially on a scale not seen since China.
Weddings are the primary driver, though. The World Gold Council estimates that half of India’s annual demand for gold is generated by weddings (a bride is gifted jewellery as part of her dowry).
This bodes well for the jewellery category’s continued steep growth trajectory, given that 47% of India’s population is under the age of 25. It means there could be as many as 15 million weddings a year over the coming decade, or, put another way, about 150 million dowries to fill over 10 years.
Another reason why luxury jewellery and gold especially, is so popular in India is that many people regard it as a safe haven for their money. Even lower-income consumers, who typically shy away from bank accounts, will look to collect small amounts of gold and jewellery as a form of long-term security investment, or as a way of saving for their children’s future marriages.
Jewellery is also used as a way for lower-income households to secure short-term loans from India’s plethora of pawnbrokers (many of which operate informally).
Of course, every ounce of gold that is bought in India has been imported. There are no gold mines in India. This means that the cost of jewellery, in rupees, is highly sensitive to fluctuations in exchange rates and commodity prices. Remarkably, though, India’s appetite for jewellery seems undaunted by market headwinds.
“ India’s appetite for luxury jewellery is set to remain strong for the foreseeable future ”
Indeed, over the past decade, the price of gold has shot up in real terms for Indians, yet demand has gone from strength to strength. Inevitably, perhaps, given the country’s obsession with jewellery, there is significant illicit trade in gold.
In one notorious case last year, a team of surgeons recovered 12 bars of gold from the stomach of a man who had gone to his doctor complaining of acute abdominal pain. This type of smuggling is not as uncommon as might be thought. The Indian government has estimated that as much as 3,000kg of gold is being smuggled into the country every month.
It seems clear that India’s appetite for luxury jewellery is set to remain strong for the foreseeable future. The tradition of gold and jewellery in rituals and ceremonies is entrenched, and demand even defies negative shifts in market conditions, such as hikes in import duties (which happened in 2012/2013) or a weak domestic currency.
“ Sales of luxury watches have soared in India over the last five years ”
There is an argument, though, that the high level of spending on jewellery undermines the growth potential of other luxury goods in India.
Yes, sales of luxury watches have soared in India over the last five years, fuelled by a burgeoning and aspirational middle class in the big urban centres. But, India is still only the 20th biggest market in the world for luxury watches compared with being the 17th biggest for luxury jewellery. And in luxury bags, India ranks outside the top 20 markets in the world.
It follows that if Indian consumers are stockpiling gold and jewellery, they will have less cash to spend on other products. It is a big concern for the government too, because this type of investment is effectively dead money that does little to drive up the productive economy. It is why the government has not baulked at hiking import duty on gold, or introducing other disincentives (none of which have worked).
Taj Mahal, India
One possible way for non-jewellery categories to maximise the growth opportunities in India is by using gold in their own designs: gold or gold-plated watches for men and women are potentially big business, for example.
Equally, bags or writing instruments with gold insignia have the potential to sell extremely well, and could tap into gift-giving traditions. Nothing is ever likely to surpass jewellery in terms of prestige, value and security prestige value and security, of course.
But, finding new ways to latch onto India’s gold obsession would be a smart strategic approach. Nevertheless India’s luxury goods market will be a focus of some of the most ambitious investment, but Western brands will be wary of potential headwinds there too.
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