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Debts Caused by Online Shopping Rise in China

08 February 2019 - 10:05 by David Aiken

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Chinese consumers are overspending on safe shopping online in order to maintain a level of prestige in their lifestyles which they cannot afford, according to Wired.

In particular, it is the ancient concept of mianzi which is putting pressure on people to make purchases from e-commerce sites, because doing so is associated with being affluent, modern and forward-thinking.

Mianzi is a fairly fluid idea and can apply to lots of areas of a person’s life, but in the context of online shopping it means that more people are going into debt in order to keep up appearances.

Research carried out by teams in both China and the US has found that almost a third of Chinese consumers buy compulsively, with this proportion rising to almost 50 per cent amongst those aged 25 and under.

In comparison with global trends, where as few as 3.4 per cent of people are categorised as compulsive spenders, it is clear that there is some cultural element that makes China the exception.

The short explanation is that spending money conspicuously, usually by ordering a lot of products from the internet, is a way for consumers to boost their standing in their social circles. Consumption implies wealth, even if people are only able to achieve this through accumulation of debt.

In the West the opposite is true, with compulsive buyers often ashamed of their addition to shopping and willing to go to great lengths to disguise this from the people in their lives. 

Over half a billion people in China made purchases via safe shopping online last year, and as the trend continues to spread it will only gather momentum and potentially create more problems for people who are not in the financial position to sustain this kind of spending.