Don’t Quote Me (On Statistics)

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Statistics are hard work just about anywhere, but in China they can be especially exasperating (see here and here) as rapid change combines with lack of transparency (not to mention questionable sourcing, occasional policy-driven prodding etc.). The result is lots of data in need of thoughtful analysis. Luckily there are people who do this sort of thing, and it is from among their number that the latest in the “Don’t Quote Me” series comes…

Access Asia, self-confessed “statheads”, have been looking at the validity of retail statistics for some time (see earlier post here). Their conclusion?:

    “The Chinese government figure for retail sales isn’t retail sales, and it’s about 80% bigger than the real retail market value. This means that per capita retail sales are about half what people thought they were. The size of China’s “middle class” is much smaller than the hypesters promised…and by Western standards are not really a middle class.”

As seen in the Access Asia newsletter, 8th February, 2007.

Scary stuff if your business plan is based on a quick read of headlines and official statistics! Whether you agree with the analysis or not, it is a reminder of the value of diligent research, including reference to multiple sources of information.

As for the consuming middle class, it is clear that the “hypsters” are being held to account. Recent reports put them at 65 to 75 million people (rather than more frothy estimates of 250 million to 300 million).

Of course, it is important to remember that per capita figures can be misleading, and that this core of the consuming middle class are narrowly focused in a few urban areas (where there is some pent up demand for luxury). So there is an addressable “middle class” market (though it does indeed differ from that in the West), but it is only beginning to emerge.

Indeed the middle market is in many ways more attractive that the luxury one, which has been having problems (though brand-building is a long-term game that is far from over).

Watch this space – and count on your statistics with care.

2 Responses to “Don’t Quote Me (On Statistics)”

  1. Archive » Don’t Quote Me (On Statistics). Again| China Business Blog Says:

    […] appened to be a few billion dollars apart, at US$49.5 billion and US$36.9 billion. (We had more of the same in retail sales recently). In the words of Fons Tuinstra: “…figures in C […]

  2. Archive » Restated Statistics: GDP| China Business Blog Says:

    […] re are some past posts on the subject: • Don’t Quote Me (On Statistics). Again • Don’t Quote Me (On Statistics) • FDI is Falling (Or Is It?) • Statistical Oversight […]

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