New York City retailers are welcoming affluent Chinese shoppers

Over five days in January, a group of visitors to New York was treated to a private concert with the pianist Lang Lang at the Montblanc store, cocktails and a fashion show attended by the designers Oscar de la Renta and Diane Von Furstenberg, and a tour of Estée Lauder’s original office.
They were not celebrities. They were not government officials. They were Chinese tourists with a lot of money.
Though luxury brands started opening stores in Beijing and Shanghai years ago, Chinese shoppers still spend more on luxury products abroad than they do at home, according to the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. Price is the major reason: Because of China’s taxes, luxury products are about a third cheaper in the United States and elsewhere.
European luxury stores have been catering to Chinese tourists for years. Now high-end retailers in the United States are pulling out their Mandarin phrase books and trying to convince Chinese visitors that Americans can do luxury, too.
“What started as a trickle has now become a flow,” said the vice president of the antiques store Macklowe Gallery, Ben Macklowe, who recently sold a Tiffany lamp that cost in the low six figures to a Shanghai visitor. “There’s been prosperity across so much of Asia that you’re starting to see it much more in the profile of the tourist on Madison Avenue.”
A record number of Chinese visited the United States last year — nearly 1.1 million — and the country accounts for one of the top-growing tourist groups here, according to the Commerce Department. The number of visitors is expected to almost double by 2014, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Chinese visitors spend about $6,000 each on every visit here, versus the $4,000 that visitors from other countries spend on average, the association says, and their top activity is shopping.
Although some tourists spend money on Disney trinkets and at the outlet malls they have traditionally frequented, luxury brand purchases are surging in part because American stores carry a broader range of products than their counterparts in China, said Julia Zhu, consulting director for Frost & Sullivan.
Tiffany, which made almost a quarter of its United States revenue last year from foreign tourists, has added Mandarin-speaking sales staff to its major stores, as has Burberry, where more than half of sales at its flagship stores are to tourists. Representatives from Tourneau’s Manhattan office recently accompanied New York City officials on a visit to China to encourage more tourism in the city.
The very popular Chinese social media network “Niuyue Mag” (纽约志), used by the young and affluent Chinese tourists preparing their trip to New York City had also a role in promoting the Big Apple as a major luxury shopping destination. According to Sandra Ming, analyst at China Elite Focus, “the impact of Niuyue Mag has been tremendous as it’s for now the only one media available in China exclusively about the planning of a shopping trip in New York City”
At its United States stores, Montblanc sells Year of the Dragon pens and has staff members who speak Mandarin and Cantonese. It is also printing Chinese-language brochures about its products and selling wallets sized for Chinese currency.
Despite having more than 100 stores in China, Montblanc is going after Chinese shoppers on vacation abroad. “Yes, we are in the major cities, but when you travel, you’re in the mood to enjoy and experience the moment,” said Jan-Patrick Schmitz, chief executive of Montblanc North America. “We certainly will do more and more marketing toward them.”
Retailers in the United States lag behind other countries. Part of that is because of visa issues; it is easier for Chinese residents to get visas to Europe. High-end American retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s are urging the government to speed up the process here. President Obama said in January that he planned to increase visa-processing capacity from emerging markets like China and Brazil by 40 percent this year.
The American stores also have to overcome an idea that luxury can come only from the old world.
“The European brands, they see prestige, history, heritage,” said Sunny Wong, group managing director of Trinity, a company that owns and operates high-end European retail brands in China. American brands, by contrast, are seen as “contemporary, lifestyle” rather than pure luxury, he said. American retailers are racing to prove Mr. Wong wrong.


Chinese tourists are world’s biggest spenders

Chinese tourists came out tops again as the world’s biggest tax free shoppers in 2011.

And they continue to represent the fastest growing group in tax free spending globally, according to the latest intelligence data by financial services company Global Blue.

Chinese tourists are welcomed in stores around the world as they generate the biggest tax-free shopping sales globally.

Last year, they chalked up more than S$3 billion in tax free shopping transactions.

Chinese tourists also represented the highest growth in tax free spending globally year-to-date at 57 per cent, followed by Switzerland with 37 per cent and Taiwan with 34 per cent.

Each Chinese shopper’s tax-free average spend amounted to more than S$1,341 per person, which is much higher than their Japanese (S$877) and Russian (S$594) counterparts.

Singapore also turned out to be their top destination for buying luxury watches and jewellery, with each spending an average of S$8,757 in Singapore, compared to S$7,221 in Italy and S$3,127 in Germany.

But that’s not all that China tourists spend on.

Ravi Thakran, group president of South and Southeast Asia & Middle East at LVMH, said: “The largest business for us in Singapore is the duty free shoppers. We had a PRC customer buying a single bottle of a 62-year-old Dalmore st Claire for S$250,000. This is the highest price paid for a single bottle of whiskey anywhere in the world in a duty free environment. And I’m told that those guys wanted to have their glasses and drink it too. That’s the PRC customer for you. Often, we have these customers in our stores and they are certainly now making the highest transaction value per person.”

Despite the weak economic data and a possible move by the Chinese government to lower import taxes on luxury goods, experts say the spending power of the Chinese shopper remains resilient.

Manelik Sfez, vice president of Global Marketing at Global Blue SA, said: “All brands will be able to handle a lower growth base of Chinese travelers because that is the problem today, it’s growing so fast. There’s so much more people every day to serve so if it were a bit lesser, that wouldn’t be a problem.

He added: “Their average spending is growing and if they remain at the same level, that would still be more than okay for most brands. I think the emotional drive of traveling abroad and the social positioning that it provides will remain extremely powerful.”

The Russians used to be the top global spenders but have since been outpaced by the Chinese and this trend is likely to continue, given the rapid population growth and rising affluence in China.

Going forward, experts say the top shopping destinations for China citizens will be Singapore, Hong Kong, London and Paris.

Dubai, the new trendy shopping destination for Chinese shoppers

Xiao Tiang takes a Louis Vuitton bag gingerly in her hands from the gloved sales assistant, turning it over slowly and pointing out the lining and pattern to her shopping companion. She’s visiting Dubai from China for the second time, and shopping for luxury brands remains at the top of her agenda.
“In China, we have taxes on luxury brands, and sometimes fakes are so good they are sold in real shops, so here it can be cheaper, and we don’t worry about fakes,” said the 32-year-old, shopping with her sister in the Dubai Mall, the region’s largest. “It’s worth the flight to come here and shop and cheaper than going to Paris.”
chinese-tourists-in-dubai-china-elite-focusShe does a twirl in the crowded aisle in front of the store, pointing out her beige Christian Louboutin pumps and colorful Missoni dress.
Chinese shoppers, rare birds not long ago, are flocking to Dubai’s malls. Up to 25 percent of luxury goods sold in Mall of the Emirates are purchased by Chinese tourists, according to Iyad Malas, chief executive officer of the Majid Al Futtaim group, which has 11 malls across the Middle East including Mall of the Emirates, known for its indoor ski slope.
“So now, it’s about how we market to them,” Mr. Malas said. “For example, many stores are hiring Chinese speakers dedicated to these consumers.” Dior had two Chinese sales assistants in its shoe section on a slow Wednesday afternoon in Mall of the Emirates, both of whom had been there for about a year.
“We do surveys frequently and keep finding, especially over the last year or two, that Chinese tourists are the highest spenders per hit at our luxury stores,” said Peter Walichnowski, chief executive officer of Majid Al Futtaim properties, another division of the company. “Up to 40 percent of their purchases are gifts for family and friends, making them top spenders in our malls.”
Some 214,000 Chinese tourists came to Dubai last year, a nine-fold increase from 25,000 visitors a decade earlier, according to data from the real estate and hotel firm Jones Lang LaSalle. Over the last year alone, there has been a 50 percent increase in Chinese tourists. The retailers are paying attention. According to Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus, a specialized PR agency targeting wealthy Chinese tourists “Dubai is a distinctive destination for Chinese travelers who have already been to New York, London, or Paris. They want to try a different kind of experience here”.
“We have a mix of sales associates from different nationalities in our boutiques, which enables us to provide the best service to visitors in Dubai, including Chinese travelers,” said Louis Ferla, Cartier’s managing director in Dubai.
Luxury brands including Dior, Chanel, Cartier and Louis Vuitton in Dubai are starting to cater more to Chinese consumers. Cartier’s spokesman said that sales to Chinese consumers were a “significant” of total luxury brand sales.
In addition to hiring Chinese sales staff, the malls in Dubai have begun to decorate for Chinese New Year and are making sure that Chinese tour groups stop at all the major malls.
“More retailers are accepting Chinese credit cards in shops, too,” Mr. Walichnowski said.
Data collected by the Majid Al Futtaim group from hoteliers shows that Chinese visitors are lengthening their average stay in Dubai. They are now spending four nights compared to three nights just two years ago. On one of the four nights, they will often stay at the $2,100-per-night Burj Al Arab hotel where 30 percent of guests were Chinese in the first three months of 2012. The remaining nights are usually spent in “obscure two-star hotels to maximize a visitor’s stay,” Mr. Walichnowski said.
“Staying at the Burj for a night is like visiting the Eiffel Tower,” meaning something one needs to do in Dubai, he said. “The Chinese visitors to Dubai are fairly affluent — the ones who like a bottle of wine and a night at the Burj.”
Over time, as airline connections with the east continue to improve, more Chinese travelers will discover Dubai, he predicts.
“With the help of airlines like Emirates, Chinese are becoming major contributors to retail and trade overall, and are coming to Dubai as a stopover to Africa and Europe,” said Hamad Buamim, director general of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce.
Analysts say that while European luxury brands are the hot ticket for Chinese consumers in Dubai, Chinese brands are also making their way into local markets.
“Chinese tend to be very brand-conscious luxury shoppers, so it is not surprising that they account for a big share of luxury purchases in Dubai,” said Ira Kalish, director of global economics at Deloitte Research in the United States. “But there is an increasing popularity for home-grown Chinese brands as well.”
Such consumers can go to Dubai’s bargain basement Dragonmart, the largest Chinese trading area outside of China. When it comes to Chinese shoppers, Dubai has them well-covered.