“Chinese shoppers, in particular, are fuelling stonking sales.” Such was the verdict given to British newspaper The Times by The New West End Company, which represents 600 retailers in London’s main shopping district.
For those not familiar with British slang, ‘stonking’ means very impressive indeed. And over the past few days the UK press has become rather enamoured of the Chinese shopper. Their interest was sparked after Chinese tourists seemed to be leading the charge through store doorways as they rushed to spend at the Boxing Day (December 26) sales.
At the top end, the numbers are certainly impressive ones. Michael Ward, managing director of Harrods, say that each sale from a Chinese shopper is currently worth about £2,520. “Four or five years ago, the rate of spending by Chinese customers was broadly 30% of American spend,” he says. “Today, it’s significantly ahead. These are very serious tourists with a propensity to spend.”
To lure more Chinese tourists, department stores like Selfridges and Harrods have staffed their stores with Mandarin-speaking sales assistants and allowed shoppers to use UnionPay, the Chinese debit and credit card.
Bicester Village, an outlet shopping centre, has Mandarin-speaking “concierges” to take groups round the shops, helping to explain things like UK clothes sizes.
A big reason for the overseas shopping spree is the gloating rights on returning home. “When Chinese consumers travel, they spend six times more than when they stay at home. Saying ‘I bought this in London’ adds further cachet,” says Angela Ahrendts, chief executive of Burberry.
Among the hordes descending on Oxford Street for this year’s sales were students from China too. According to Thomas Chan, vice-chairman of the Chinese in Britain Forum, there are 120,000 currently studying in the UK. He told The Times they have “money from their parents” and so can afford to shop.
However, even if the British are impressed by Chinese shopping habits, their experience is small fry compared to Hong Kong.
According to CBN, a record-breaking 25 million mainland Chinese shopped in the territory in the first eleven months of 2011. On Christmas Day alone, about 750,000 Chinese consumers descended on Hong Kong to take advantage of sales campaigns. Many headed for the famous Tsim Tsa Tsui shopping district. Outside the Louis Vuitton store, WiC witnessed queues of more than 50 shoppers throughout the day – waiting just to get in.
“People around were speaking the Sichuan dialect, Cantonese, Northeast dialect, making me feel that I was not in Hong Kong, but in mainland China,” Mrs Jiang from Chengdu told CBN. She revealed too that she had a shopping budget of Rmb20,000 for her trip.
It’s not just about luxury goods. At this year’s Hong Kong Brands and Products Expo, a large exhibition of locally-made products (usually food stuffs), Chinese tourists helped spur a 20% surge in sales compared to the year before, says the South China Morning Post. Sales reached more than $75 million at the month-long expo, which ended this week.
Exhibitors say Chinese customers were mainly shopping for the Lunar New Year later this month. One mainlander spent $22,500 on 1,296 cans of abalone. Another, from Fujian province, spent $10,000 on bird’s nest and ginseng.
Others bought bulk in items like soy sauce and detergent. “Since our products are all made locally and many mainland visitors recognise our brands, they were willing to spend a lot on our products,” says Amoy, a Hong Kong-based soy sauce brand.
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