By  on June 19, 2012

WASHINGTON — Saks Fifth Avenue is intent on capitalizing on an anticipated surge in international shoppers in the next few years and is building an “infrastructure” and developing new strategies to make its stores an international destination.

Kathleen Ruiz, vice president, vendor and store marketing and public relations at Saks, outlined the initiatives the retailer is developing to attract foreign tourists to its 45 stores in the U.S. It includes upgrading systems in its stores to enable Asian customers to use their own foreign debit cards to make purchases; developing partnerships with companies such as Affinity China, an invitation-only network that offers luxury lifestyle events and travel promotions; partnering with airlines to provide special Saks promotions in-flight; executing an ambitious plan to recruit multilingual sales associates at its stores, and eventually providing tablets to foreign customers to help them navigate the store, translate or find an associate who speaks their language.

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Ruiz said the initiatives are at the “ground floor” stage and should be implemented within the next year.

“With President Obama’s recent order and the potential growth of international tourism, Saks Fifth Avenue has established opportunities to expand our customer base by targeting the foreign shopper with the same customer centricity [it employs with U.S. customers],” Ruiz said at the “Promoting Travel while Protecting National Security” conference sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Obama issued an executive order in January designed to reduce visa processing delays, increase tourism and create jobs in the U.S. An interagency task force he created issued recommendations last month aimed at increasing international visitors to the U.S. from a record 62 million in 2011 to 100 million by 2021. The task force estimates that these visitors would spend $250 billion annually in the country.

Ruiz said Saks has seen the largest increase in shopping patterns from tourists from three countries — China, India and Canada. She noted the Saks stores that have seen the biggest increase in sales from foreign tourists are located in New York, Miami, Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, San Francisco and Boston.

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