A jewelry appraiser inspects a diamond in Beijing. (Photo by He Guang / For China Daily)
Rising incomes, consumption upgrade, concerns about fakes make unusual career hot
Young female consumers may aspire to own a premium branded handbag－Louis Vuitton, Gucci or Burberry－but Zhang Chen, 35, a luxury goods appraiser in Beijing, deals with hundreds of such items every day.
Luxury is in. As the affluent among the Chinese consumers go shopping at malls, online or even used-goods channels, services such as Zhang's offerings are in demand.
His job is to distinguish authentic luxury products from fakes, and advise consumers suitably.
Zhang offers his services both online and in personal interactions. While online, he asks his consumer clients to share pictures of luxury products from different angles.
For offline examination of luxury products, he wears gloves, and uses a purple light emitter, a magnifying glass, screwdrivers and flashlights.
"As the luxury industry booms in China, more and more consumers are buying products through second-hand channels such as e-commerce platforms, and daigou (overseas shoppers who buy foreign products for customers on the Chinese mainland). As that usually costs them less than buying luxury products at shopping malls, they are willing to pay a very small amount of money for goods appraisal before they buy," Zhang said.
According to a forecast by consulting firm McKinsey, by 2025, affluent Chinese consumers will account for 44 percent, or 1 trillion yuan ($149 billion), of global luxury sales.
According to the report from the Yaok Research Institute, which focuses on luxury goods, in 2018, the luxury product consumption of Chinese people reached $145.7 billion, growing 7 percent year-on-year.
It accounted for 42 percent of global luxury consumption. Among their purchases, $107.3 billion, or 74 percent, was spent abroad, while the rest ($38.4 billion) was spent in the home market.
The report also showed that online luxury purchases surged in China in 2018 to $5.3 billion, 37 percent higher than 2017, and took up 14 percent of the domestic sales volume of luxury products.
It estimated that this year will witness explosive growth of online luxury sales in China to surpass 50 billion yuan as government policies will support e-commerce.
"The luxury appraisal industry is set to boom, as people, especially Chinese people, are extremely careful when it comes to online transactions," Zhang said.
His journey into his career began by chance. While in Japan to receive his master's degree, he would buy luxury products there and resell them to Chinese customers.
However, some of his customers doubted the authenticity of the products. That was when he enrolled into a luxury appraisal course.
Now, he can tell whether a product is a fake in 10 seconds flat. "Some new arrivals may take long, as I need to ask our buyers in Europe to make a comparison."
On his return to China, he founded Extraordinary Boutique Technology Ltd in Beijing, which offers luxury appraisal services.
The firm now receives hundreds of online queries every day. Customers bring their luxury products to the firm's offices for offline consultations.
An online consultation is priced 49 yuan per item, while a face-to-face interaction could cost around 200 yuan to 300 yuan per item.
"The hardest part of the job lies in that luxury products are hand-made and non-standardized. The same style of products from different manufactured batches differ. In addition, every luxury brand has its own processing technology－and the technology is constantly changing. There are no specific rules. It requires you to have a very good memory.
"You need to learn all the time as new styles emerge, and the manufacturing technology of fake goods also is updated frequently."
According to Zhang, there may be nearly 10,000 luxury good appraisers in China. But there are fewer than 50 full-timers who can appraise all luxury brands. "The industry is very short of talent as the demand for luxury good appraisers is huge."
According to Extraordinary Boutique, there was 70-percent year-on-year rise in appraisals in 2018, thanks to Chinese consumers' growing appetite for luxury goods as well as their growing concern about fakes.
Market insiders said bright prospects await appraisers as China's middle-income consumers see a rise in disposable incomes, with demand for luxury goods set to grow amid the ongoing consumption upgrade, particularly from second-and third-tier cities. "Appraisers are at the core of the luxury goods industry, and are a hot target in the talent market."