Asian Americans’ shopping habits make retailers’ eyes light up

In her Tory Burch flats and carrying the requisite Burberry bag, Linda Mar eyes the buttery leather designer purses, pausing to click off the labels: Phillip Lim. Chloe. Prada.

“I want the name brands,” the Taiwanese immigrant says, as she wanders the aisles of Saks Fifth Avenue at South Coast Plaza.


Mar is part of an emerging class of Asian Americans, identified as the “swayable shopaholics,” who now rank as the most prolific and impulsive buyers in the United States, according to a Nielsen report released Thursday.

They prefer Costco over Walmart, choose brand names over generics and lead the nation as a demographic in online buying. As a group, their spending power outpaces the coveted millennials — those in their 20s and early 30s, according to Nielsen’s “Significant, Sophisticated and Savvy: the Asian American Consumer 2013 Report.”


Asian Americans have a median household income of $63,400 compared with the general population’s $49,600, and are 54% more likely to earn incomes in excess of $100,000.

The study, which confirms that Asian Americans are the fastest-growing group in the nation, with a growth spurt of almost 58% from 2000 to 2013, offers a look at the shopping habits of Asian Americans.

As digital users, 77% of Asian Americans made an Internet purchase in the past year, with books, clothing, airfare, computer hardware and software at the top of the shopping list. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said they have smartphones, and 85% said they had used the device to shop, most often making purchases based on multigenerational family needs over their own.

Mar, who lives with her parents and children in Huntington Beach, slips neatly into that category. She plans to buy mall gift certificates as Christmas presents for the youngsters and cozy slippers, wine and packets of tea sold in bulk at warehouse stores for the elders.


“When I’m at a discount place, I still look for a good name,” she says. “I don’t choose generics.”

Mac Gutierrez, pushing a cart loaded with coffee, steak and soda at a Costco in Fountain Valley, said he seeks good deals because his family shares their home with his in-laws.

“But even when I’m buying a lot, I want the best product for what I’m paying,” said the Filipino immigrant, reflecting a study trend showing that Asian Americans are unwilling to sacrifice quality for price, even when looking for value for their money.

By 2017, Asian Americans are expected to reach $1 trillion in consumer buying power, “showing their influence and the need for marketers to continue to offer culturally relevant materials,” said Betty Lo, vice president of public affairs for Nielsen.


South Coast Plaza is among the retail centers heeding that advice and marketing to Asian Americans and travelers from Asia, with concierge staff and dozens of retail employees who speak foreign languages as well as maps and directions printed in Korean, Japanese and Chinese.

The study is Nielsen’s second report on the consumer habits of Asian Americans. The company used results from marketing consulting company Scarborough, along with data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and its own market findings, to assemble a “deeper portrait of who the Asian American consumer is, what motivates him or her and what kind of messages he or she responds to,” Lo said.

The results show that the need for culturally sensitive programming and services for Asian Americans is critical, she said, with nearly 70% of the population speaking a language other than English at home. Chinese ranks as the second-most frequently used foreign language in the U.S., after Spanish, with 2.6 million speakers.

In the Los Angeles market, more Chinese and Korean Americans watch in-language TV channels than English-language channels.

When it comes to consumers like Mar, who splashes out on designer wear, the term “swayable shopaholic” is an adjective referring to “informed shoppers,” those willing to switch brands if they believe another brand offers more quality, notes Frank Piotrowski, Nielsen’s senior vice president working in measurement science.

The report said that 35% of those surveyed identified as being a “swayable shopaholic.”

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