Changing tastes - and changing ideas about how to celebrate the Spring Festival holiday - make finding the right gifts for the family more challenging than ever, Wang Zhuoqiong reports.
This week is the first time for newlywed Wang Jing to visit her husband's hometown in East China's Shandong province. To impress her in-laws and other relatives during the Spring Festival, Wang has handpicked many presents: two smart cell phones, children's clothes, bottles of olive oil and French wines.
"It is rude to visit people with empty hands," said Wang, a 31-year-old logistic manager in Beijing. It's Chinese tradition to visit family and friends with bags of gifts at the grandest festival in a year, when people are supposed to purchase nian huo, meaning "Spring Festival goods". "Nowadays, you never go wrong with electronic products and green groceries."
The flavor of the Spring Festival family reunion has been weakened over the years as Chinese earn more income and have more opportunities to travel - and more ways to stay in touch with the family back home without making a journey. But the need to call on business clients, family and friends during the holiday have remained strong, sustaining a massive demand for gifts, said Gao Jianfeng, general manager at Shanghai-based Bogo Consultants.
Roasted seeds and nuts, cigarettes, alcohol and local pastries which used to dominate gift baskets only about a decade ago, he said, were replaced by electronic products, healthy food, personal accessories, service products and gift cards.
Experts say that the best sellers among electronic products change quickly. MP3 players and Flash disks, once widely popular, are no longer much appreciated when iPhones, iPads and Samsung smartphones lure buyers in the gift market, Gao said.
In a survey about present selection conducted by Suning Appliance Co, a leading home appliance company, more than 61 percent interviewed said they hoped to receive electronic products as gifts.
The survey showed the majority of Spring Festival presents purchased by companies before 2008 were grain, oil, cigarettes and liquor, with only 18 percent going to home appliances. But since 2008, about 70 percent of holiday gifts for employees and clients are appliances related to health.
More than half of company management and employees prefer to receive fashionable electronic products as their lucky-draw rewards at year-end conferences, the survey showed. Seafood packages, green and organic food, wine and olive oil are also popular on gift lists, Gao said.
Prices for home appliances as gifts were also on the rise, from a minimum of 500 yuan to 2,000 yuan.
Green and organic food from home and abroad are top sellers at WAOW Plaza, a high-end department store recently opened at Hangzhou city of Zhejiang province, said Xia Lili, the store's general manager. "The days when people celebrate the arrival of the Lunar New Year with a piece of fish and a piece of chicken are gone. They want to eat healthy and eat smart," Xia said.
At Wal-Mart supermarkets across the country, imported wines are promoted in addition to traditional festival goods such as nuts and liquor, according to Vivian Jiang, public relations manager at Wal-Mart (China) Investment Co Ltd.
"Original" and "contamination free" are labels attracting Chinese customers who are extremely sensitive on food-safety issues. "Green" pork from pigs raised on organic vegetables at Suichang, a county at Zhejiang province, has became popular among Spring Festival merchandise featured on Taobao, a major online shopping website. Taobao's statistics show more than 60,000 people purchased food products labeled from their original production locations, a sharp rise from 10,000 people from the same period of last year.
More coupons and gift cards from health-check institutions, gyms and travel agencies are also selling well - gifts seen as a good wish to embark on a healthy new year, Gao, from Bogo Consultants, said.
Tang Xiaotao, a 30-year-old engineer, bought two membership cards from a neighborhood gym for his wife and himself as a reward for their hard work in the past year. "According to our previous experience, what we mostly do on holiday when we get back to our hometown is to eat nonstop," said Tang. "I think both of us will need to lose some weight after the festival season."
And while it's traditional for Chinese to spend Spring Festival in their hometowns, younger generations are sending their parents to travel locally and abroad during or after the holiday as a new way to say thank-you, said Gao. Because of the seven-day holiday that started from Feb 9, islands at tropical destinations are top choices.
Ctrip.com, a leading online travel agency, has offered gift cards to meet the demands for tourism products as presents for parents and friends. Available in values between 500 and 5,000 yuan, the cards can be used to purchase hotels and flights.