Chinese New Year is one of biggest shopping seasons of the year in China. During up to 15 days of holiday, people splurge on food and gifts, mostly for themselves (one reason why the holiday is only somewhat comparable with Christmas). And this year that means a lot of classy serpent-themed (paywall) merchandise to celebrate, according to the Chinese zodiac calendar, the year of the snake.
It’s not certain how well branding goods according to the animal of the year works. Dragon-themed gold bars for last year’s Chinese New year are reported, somewhat anecdotally, to have “sold like hot cakes.”
Despite the lack of convicting evidence, retailers in China and overseas are banking on the idea that festive-feeling Chinese shoppers will want to round out their collection of zodiac-themed consumer goods (perhaps an addition to a Rolls-Royce’s “Year of the Dragon” phantom car from last year?) In London, the bank attached to the department store Harrods, which last year launched gold bars emblazoned with dragons, is this year adding bars with the outline of a snake for $320 to $5,700. Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin is selling timepieces with snakes etched onto their faces. Mercedes-Benz has made 666 snake-themed smart cars, and is reportedly trying to sell them on the microblogging site Sina Weibo. To top it all off, Dartz Motorz is selling a Bentley covered in real snakeskin (known as the SS, for SnakeSkin).
Retailers overall expect the holiday season to boost sales, coinciding with Chinese central planners’ long-time goal of rebalancing and boosting domestic consumption. Sales last year jumped 16% over the year before, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. The Hong Kong Retail Management Association expects sales for January and February of this year to show a 12%-13% increase (paywall).
Still, it might be an inauspicious year for retailers. Those born in the year of the snake (1977, 1989, 2013 and so on) are thought of as materialistic but with little patience for shopping. (In general, zodiac tradition says the year of the snake should bring stability). Retailers might not do as well on snake-themed goodies since snakes aren’t as popular as other zodiac animals like dragons, for example. “You see some brands call snakes ‘little dragons’ because it’s not as sexy an animal,” said (paywall) Christine Lu, chief executive at Affinity China, a travel company.