Christmas is rooted in the West, but like other aspects of Western culture it has spread to other parts of the world. In much of Asia, shopping malls sport glittery Christmas trees and even the odd Santa Claus posing for photos with children. Some malls get a boom in retail business around Christmas, too. Shoppers in countries with a history of Christian missionary work or Western colonization may naturally celebrate Christmas.
But people all over Asia spend crazily from November to February, economists in the region say. And it’s not usually about Christmas. Here are four more likely reasons:
1. Online promotions: In China, Nov. 11 marks the biggest shopping holiday of the year. It has helped raise China’s 2009-2017 average retail in November and December, higher than all other months (according to Bloomberg data) save for October when most Chinese take a week-long holiday. Online shopping malls invite the spree by lowering prices. The 14-year-old event called Singles’ Day brought in a record $25 billion in 2017. Some consumers in nearby Taiwan also buy more on Singles’ Day, about one-tenth of their monthly income this past month, according to the China Daily news website.
2. Inbound travel: People from anywhere like to take year-end vacations in Bangkok or stop in places such as Singapore and Hong Kong for, says Tony Phoo, a senior economist with Standard Chartered Bank in Taipei. Their spending drives up retail receipts for those Asian markets. “It’s more about tourism arrivals than retail spending per se and that’s particular to Hong Kong and Singapore being small,” Phoo says. “Because they offer tax-free, duty-free consumer products, if they become one of the hot spots where you happen to be traveling, you do some shopping.” Hong Kong’s retail receipts averaged more than $5 billion in both December and January from 2009 to 2017, higher than other months. Indians in particular travel a lot by air in December because of longer vacation times then, market research firm Euromonitor says.
3. Lunar New Year and other non-Christmas holidays: Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival and Chinese New Year, drives retailing from December to February. People in China, Taiwan and other places with large ethnic Chinese populations celebrate it. In Taiwan, employers kick off the season with year-end parties for their workers. During the holiday in China earlier this year, consumers spent $67.3 billion, up 48% over 2016, the official Xinhua News Agency says. In India, spending soars during Diwali in October and November, one retail analyst notes. Indonesia and Malaysia have their own year-end holidays that drive up spending, he says. The question to ask, that analyst says, is “when do the Christmas-New year holidays fall relative to local holidays?”
4. Year-end bonuses: Company employees in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan among other spots in Asia get a burst of spending power toward year’s end as companies hand out bonuses, with amounts often pegged to the company’s profitability over the past 12 months. In Singapore this year, public sector employees are getting bonuses equal to a month’s pay, according to this report. Employees in Asia may apply this money to holiday-related spending, such as travel, or to buy expensive items that they weren’t sure they could afford earlier in the year.