Does Bicester Village represent a vision of the UK’s post-Brexit destiny, i.e. as a shopping emporium for hordes of affluent Chinese tourists? Bicester opened 30 new boutiques last week – adding to the 130 outlets already there – which led the Financial Times to pay a visit and check out the hypothesis.
The reporter didn’t take long to find highly enthused shoppers from China, including Kaien, a fashionable visitor from Shanghai (“wearing an oversize mohair cardigan and skinny jeans”). She enthused that Bicester is “famous” in China and she’d been advised to take a day out there during her time in London. She had already bought a Balenciaga handbag reduced from £890 to £520. “The cool brands in China are Chanel, Supreme, Superdry and Louis Vuitton. Burberry is not so cool if you are 25,” she advised the reporter.
About 60% of the visitors to Bicester are foreign tourists and according to the BBC it is the second most popular destination for visiting Chinese – who each spend an average of about £1,000 on clothes and accessories there. The importance of the Chinese shoppers is evident in the transport links: the retail village is 46 minutes by train from Marylebone station, where announcements are made in Mandarin Chinese. When passengers arrive at Bicester’s station they rest in a lounge that serves green tea while they wait for shuttle buses.
The attraction of the shopping cluster – it drew 6.4 million visitors last year, making it the UK’s second most popular destination – is the boutiques that sell last year’s luxury collections at whopping discounts. For Chinese tourists it represents amazing value versus shopping at home, where goods sold by the likes of Burberry and Gucci incur luxury taxes. Aside from the lower prices, a weak pound and VAT refunds at the airport make Bicester seem like a Chinese shopper’s paradise.
The initially sceptical FT correspondent noted that she had arrived dismayed that Britain was more appealing to the Chinese for its consumerism rather than its culture. But after spending six hours in Britain’s busiest shopping emporium, she was hooked herself and admitting to already planning a return trip.
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