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Why Oxford Street loves Chinese spenders

China’s favourite shop?

In some of London’s shopping districts there’s a new sense of excitement when Mandarin speakers enter a store.

That’s because – according to UK newspaper the Telegraph – the Chinese consumer is riding to the rescue of embattled West End retailers. Drawn by the weak pound, the number of Chinese shoppers turning up in Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street has more than doubled in the past year.

And as it turns out, they have a particular favourite: John Lewis.

The retailer saw the number of Chinese shoppers in its Oxford Street department store in London increase by 73% in 2009 compared to the year before. Average spending per person also rose by 10% over the period.

To cater to the new in-crowd, John Lewis has opened a designated tourist shop in its Oxford Street branch for foreign visitors.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Chinese shoppers would take a special interest in this particular retailer. After all, John Lewis takes pride in its ‘partnership’ (but not quite socialist) ownership structure in which the company is owned by the 69,000 staff employed by the store chain.

Like the free-spending Japanese visitors who lifted global tourism revenues in the 1980s, Chinese visitors are now welcomed by a growing number of countries as a financial shot in the arm.

As reported in WiC51, during the Lunar New Year holiday in February, some 1,200 Chinese tourists spent an estimated $6 million in the US. Galeries Lafayette, a famous department store in Paris, also reported that typical Chinese visitors were spending €1,000 in two hours of shopping last year, topping tourists from other countries.

“People have more spare money to spend now. When I travelled to France a decade ago, I didn’t buy any luxury goods because I couldn’t afford them,” businessman Cui Xiaoping told the China Daily. But on his most recent trip to France, Cui says he and his wife bought so many designer handbags and clothes that they had to buy an extra suitcase to carry all the stuff home.

Chinese buying power has changed foreign perceptions of the country, says the Guangzhou Daily. Attitudes overseas have evolved in the last decade and Chinese people are more valued and respected overseas.

In the past, it says, foreign hotels had designated areas for Chinese tourists. Their habits – smoking in non-smoking areas and spitting in public, for instance – got on people’s nerves. Cao Zezhou told the newspaper that he remembered when he went to Europe for a business trip 10 years ago, and was told by the hotel staff to have breakfast in an area separate from the main dining room. That was because mainland visitors were thought to talk too loudly, disturbing the other guests. Cao said he felt insulted and complained (loudly, perhaps) to the hotel manager, who then apologised and led him back to the main dining room.

But last year, when Cao took his wife on a vacation to France, he was surprised to meet a French tour guide that spoke Chinese. When he went shopping in department stores in Japan, he was also greeted by sales staff fluent in Mandarin. He attributed the changes to China’s rising economic status.

But being valued (for their cash) is not the same as being respected, says Professor Liu Wei from Guangdong University of Finance. Liu reckons that Chinese people are welcomed around the world as big spenders. But to gain respect they need to do more than open their wallets.

A commentary published in newspaper Lianhe Zaobao concurs: “Hotel staff and salespeople generally prefer Western tourists because they have better manners. They respond to greetings and they tip for good service; on occasions of dissatisfaction, Western tourists are also more patient. Mainland tourists, on the other hand, don’t listen and start yelling almost immediately. They think that they are somebody just because they pay.”


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