After years of chasing the mythical wealthy Chinese consumers, Western luxury retailers start to leave China

dunhill store asiaFamous luxury brands have dreamed on the Chinese market for the last twenty years. Ignoring common sense (China remains, per capita, one of the poorest country in the World), they decided to open massively luxury retail stores chasing the mythical wealthy Chinese consumer.

It’s time for a reality check.

China has recorded the most number of closures of luxury stores between July 2016 and July 2017, the latest report by the investment research and management company Bernstein shows. The report, titled “Store Wars,” based its findings on Bernstein’s tracking of about 7,000 stores referring to 36 luxury brands including big names such as Burberry, Saint Laurent, and Céline. Burberry and Dunhill had the most store closures in China of all the brands during that period.
China has seen 62 net closures of luxury brand stores during the surveyed period, the largest number observed by Bernstein among all significant geographies. The firm viewed the trend as a revision of the over-expansion, in previous years, of luxury brands into the Chinese market.

The rapid development of the country’s luxury industry fueled by affluent Chinese consumers has given luxury brands unrealistic projections of retail sales in the past. This over-estimation, according to Bernstein, has led them to aggressively open retail stores in China that exceeds consumers’ real purchasing power. The same situation occurs in the Middle East region, another area where luxury consumption is rising fast.
Globally, the number of the net store openings by luxury brands has also for the first time run into the negative territory. The report said most brands have more or less closed some of their stores in the department stores, a traditional channel that accounts for about one-third of these brands’ global sales.

Chinese consumers have demonstrated some remarkedly different purchasing behaviours from that of the West. According to Pierre Gervois, a leading expert about wealthy Chinese travelers’ shopping behavior, and founder of the prestigious STC magazine “Western luxury brands have been warned since 2010 that their projections about affluent Chinese consumers were grossly exaggerated.” “Brands refused to acknowledge that their future Chinese customers would buy in overseas stores  rather than in domestic stores, both for tax reasons but also because of the poor customer service in their Chinese stores”, Gervois added.

The really affluent Chinese consumers (as affluent as an average U.S. or Western Europe consumer) massively choose not to purchase in Chinese stores, neither online in China.  They choose deliberately to purchase overseas, as a sign of social status.

Another distinguishing habit that sets Chinese luxury consumers apart from Westerners is their huge interest in buying luxury items online. Over the past year, an increasing number of luxury brands have embraced the e-commerce marketplace and launched stores with the country’s top two players, Alibaba and JD. Moreover, big names like Louis Vuitton and Gucci even opened their own Chinese e-commerce stores to ensure their offerings meet the expectations of Chinese consumers. And then there’s the nature of luxury itself, the meaning of which is different to younger consumers from what it was to their forebears.

Another concern that Western brands cannot officially recognize in China, is that a growing part of affluent millennials Chinese are moving from government-censored social media (WeChat, Weibo…) to Facebook and Twitter throughout an increasing use of VPN’s. That makes much less relevant their communications campaigns on Chinese networks.

Source:  Chinese Tourists Blog / JingDaily Blog / Bain / Bernstein

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Between a visit at the shopping mall and at their real estate agent, Chinese tourists create growth in the U.S.

Chinese Dad in car - China Elite FocusThe number of Chinese tourists traveling the globe has increased significantly for the last ten years, making them the largest group of travelers in the world. Now, thanks in part to a recent agreement between the U.S. and China to extend visas for short-term business travelers, tourists and students, the U.S. could see an increase in Chinese travelers in the near future.

This trend is supported by research from the latest Chinese International Travel Monitor (CITM) from Hotels.com which reveals the U.S. is the second most popular destination for Chinese travelers to visit in the next 12 months (behind France), with popular U.S. landmarks like the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty topping travel wish lists.
The CITM research also identifies that, while cities in Asia Pacific remain the most popular (82 percent of Chinese travelers have visited in the past 12 months), visitors to Europe and America have increased with a year over year growth of 25 percent and 11 percent, respectively. These destinations were particularly popular with millennial travelers, with 42 percent visiting Europe and 29 percent visiting America in the past 12 months.

“The CITM reveals that the United States is one of the top five countries Chinese travelers visit the most,” said Josh Belkin, vice president and GM of the Hotels.com brand. “With tens of thousands of places to stay across the U.S., like distinctive boutiques, spacious vacation rentals and familiar chains, our site and mobile app have the perfect places for Chinese travelers of all ages and lifestyles.”

In 2016, there were 122 million outbound Chinese tourists – four percent more than in 2015 and a massive 74 percent more than in 2011, when the first CITM was published. China is already the largest source of international travelers for many countries – despite the fact only 10 percent of the population had passports in 2016.

“Chinese travelers in the United States tend to be more affluent than those who choose other destinations”, said Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus Magazines LLC and Founder of the STC magazine, a luxury travel digital publication in Chinese Mandarin. “Real Estate investment in the United States is now the #1 real reason – and rarely stated in surveys – for affluent and wealthy Chinese outbound travelers, as they have acquired for $100 billion in U.S. Real Estate in 2016”

Source: Chinese Tourists in America Blog / CITM

Chinese shoppers in the U.S. can now use WeChat Pay & Alipay, China’s leading mobile payment solutions

A Chinese shopper using WeChat Pay - China Elite FocusCitcon, the integrated payment and marketing platform, announced a strategic partnership to enable brands in North America to accept WeChat Pay and Alipay.

WeChat Pay and Alipay are the most popular and convenient payment options for Chinese consumers to purchase goods and services. Adding these payment options to retail point of sale allows brands to now tap into an even larger revenue stream from Chinese consumers who are the largest spender, and fastest growing traveler segment to the North America. The platform enables brands to optimize revenue growth without the costs and hassles of establishing a business entity in China.

WeChat Pay is a fully integrated payment solution within WeChat, the world’s most popular mobile social communications service with 936 million active users and Alipay is a super lifestyle app run by Ant Financial Services Group with more than 450 million active users. Together these platforms jointly account for 90% of China’s mobile payment market share. Both super apps allow users to book a trip, hail a taxi, order food, purchase movie tickets, pay for water and electricity bills, manage investments, perform transactions on e-commerce websites and more to create a cashless society.

“China is changing fast. Mobile payment is the new frontier of commerce and China is leading this trend. By providing an integrated and easy-to-use payment solution, Citcon is creating a future that takes payment and marketing to the next level, empowering global merchants to drive business growth with millions of Chinese consumers.”said Chuck Huang, Founder and CEO of Citcon

As the first payment partner of WeChat Pay and Alipay, in addition to major credit cards such as UnionPay, MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express, Citcon is a one-stop shop for merchants to connect with Chinese consumers and accept payments anywhere. Citcon’s stand-alone mobile point-of-sale (mPOS), easy-to-integrate API and software products empower merchants to optimize growth both online and offline, with an easy and affordable rate compared to credit card processing. In addition to the convenient payment solutions, merchants will also be able to gain in-depth consumer behavior insights, manage business performance, run marketing campaigns, guides users to merchants stores while saving their shopping preferences for future visits and manage lifetime customer loyalty programs.

“Accepting WeChat Pay is a smart move for U.S. Retailers. That will definitely help with the category of budget-conscious Chinese travelers who choose to travel in groups. But they must keep in mind that the most affluent categories prefer to pay with their international credit cards, who show their status when traveling overseas and offer more perks in terms of miles and reward points.” commented Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus Magazines LLC, a media group specialized in luxury travel publications for very affluent Chinese outbound travelers.

Source: Citcon / Chinese Tourists in America

Targeting Affluent Chinese shoppers the Bloomingdale’s way: Talking to the heart of Chinese tourists planning a U.S. trip

Bloomingdale's Interviews -Shanghai Travelers Club May 2015 -7The growing purchasing power of affluent Chinese travelers is making it more important than ever for luxury brands and luxury retail brands to adopt marketing strategies to target them. With Chinese third-party mobile payment systems like Alipay and WeChat Pay beginning to set up shop in popular global tourist destinations, catering to this traveling consumer is becoming easier to do, but it’s not a brand’s only option.

Digital intelligence firm L2’s recent report “Cross-Border and Travel Retail: Connecting Digitally with China’s Shoppers” discusses ways brands can be targeting consumers online both during their journey overseas and before they set off.

“[Luxury brands] are under-serving the traveling Chinese consumer, whether it’s through their own brand site and its functionality and capability, their WeChat account, or from leveraging things like WeChat Pay and Alipay,” said Danielle Bailey, head of Asia Pacific Research at L2. “It’s a huge missed opportunity for them to not engage on these platforms that Chinese consumers are using all the time. Their phone is their number one travel accessory.”

Brands that do engage consumers digitally abroad with an omnichannel approach are using platforms like Alipay’s “Overseas Travel Channel (支付宝境外游)” to give travelers exclusive gifts, better exchange rates, or let them find deals near where they’re going, all within the app on their mobile device. WeChat’s website within an app feature gives consumers the opportunity to reserve a product online to pick up in a store and access store locators in their own language that they can hand to a taxi driver en route.
But about half of Chinese travelers are doing research on what they want to buy abroad before they leave, and luxury brands have been adopting strategies to target these consumers, according to L2.

Bloomingdale's Interviews with Chinese customers -Shanghai Travelers Club May 2015 -4In a dissent opinion, Pierre Gervois, Publisher of the STC magazine, a digital travel media in Chinese Mandarin, said “The most important for retailers is not the way Chinese shoppers are going to pay. It’s a technicality. Chinese Customers who want to make a purchase have plenty of options: Cash, credit Cards or WeChat Pay.  The really important thing to do is to convince them to choose a particular retailer”
“Too oftenly, we see U.S. retailers being obsessed by Chinese mobile payment systems when their strategy should be focused on branding their image to Chinese millennial travelers, and create an emotional connection with their future customers, based on their brand values”, Gervois added.

A good starting point is to provide an international store locator on their official online store in China, a strategy about 72 percent of brands employ. However, brands can also take it a step further by adding a Chinese-language travel retail site that let shoppers research the products, compare prices, read reviews, view maps that direct them to duty free shops, and even let them purchase the product online in advance so that they can simply pick it up at the airport if they’re in a hurry.
To help consumers find these pages, brands are paying for search term generated Baidu ads. L2 lists the efforts of beauty brands as an example—many brands pay for cosmetics-related key words, while others, like Lancôme, are taking a more travel-centric approach, targeting consumers researching phrases like “South Korean vacation.”

Some high end retailers, such as Bloomingdale’s, choose a more qualitative approach, and advertise in luxury digital travel publications about the U.S., like the STC magazine, available for mobile but also in digital inflight entertainment.

Bloomingdale's Interviews with Chinese customers -Shanghai Travelers Club May 2015 -3With a very creative advertising campaign created by China Elite Focus Magazines in New York, they organized interviews of actual Mainland Chinese customers while shopping at their Third avenue flagship store.  The story of six actual Chinese Bloomingdale’s customers has been published in the digital edition of the STC magazine: It has much more impact than buying keywords on Chinese search engines and directly talked to the heart of Chinese consumers.

While maintaining an engaging physical presence in airports and shopping malls is always important for marketing to the Chinese shopper abroad, brands that understand how to make the most of China’s digital sphere are likely going to more efficiently connect with Chinese travelers who are in the process of creating their luxury goods shopping list for their next overseas vacation.

Source: Jing Daily / Skift / Chinese Tourists Blog