Chinese consumers stuck at home step up spending on poker, mahjong sets this Lunar New Year holiday

BEIJING (SCMP): New consumption patterns are emerging in China this Lunar New Year, as Beijing encourages people to stay put and not travel this Spring Festival holiday because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Consumers are once again turning to poker and mahjong to keep themselves entertained during the festive season. These games used to dominate people’s holiday agendas, as they returned home to celebrate with their families.

But over the past decade, digital advances and increasing wealth have reshaped people’s habits during this holiday, the most important of Chinese festivals. The distribution of laisee among relatives, friends, colleagues and employees has evolved from an occasional occurrence to a major activity during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

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Along with holidays abroad by wealthy families, these practices have laid bare the fact that traditional values have been replaced by new habits amid China’s rising economic might.

The pandemic, however, might reverse this trend and give consumer spending domestically a much-needed boost. Analysts said they expected people to spend more on entertainment and leisure in the Year of the Ox, as travel bans last year had led to revenge spending.

“The digital economy cannot fully cater to people’s entertainment needs,” said Eric Han, a senior manager with business advisory firm Shanghai Suolei. “It is people-to-people exchanges and outdoor activities that really entertain consumers.”

Cai Changlong, 46, who owns an advertising agency, bought a new mahjong set recently and planned on having friends and family over to play the game during the holiday from February 11 to 17.

“I fell victim to the coronavirus outbreak last year as company sales dropped, but it will not stop me from enjoying the Lunar New Year holiday,” he said. “We need to cheer up and expect a prosperous new year.”

A set of Mahjong contains 136 tiles made from various plastics, and Cai spent 500 yuan (US$77) on a high-end version. The father of two daughters studying in primary school said the money spent was worth it, as the 500 yuan was nothing compared to what the family would spend on a holiday abroad.

Between January 16 and February 4 this year, the sales of poker and mahjong sets doubled over last year, according to JD Daojia, the on-demand delivery platform owned by Dada Group.

The platform did not give breakout figures for the games, but said that consumers had been spending heavily on games and entertainment. “Their heavy spending included not only food, but all categories of products,” it said.

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