Wuqing, China — Amid the rollinggreen farmland that stretches out in between China’s capital and one ofits largest cities, a replica of a 16th century Italian town has takenshape among the fields.
The airy complex is incorporates Italian-styled tiles, wood ornamentsand furniture, with no detail left to chance. In the middle of thedevelopment is a spacious, over-the-top replica of the Coliseum. Towardthe back, a gondolier steers his imported Italian boat down a quiet andpicturesque canal as shoppers and onlookers stop to watch.
Welcome to the lavish new world of luxury outlet mall shopping in China.
This is Florentia Village-Jingjin Designer Outlets, a high-enddevelopment created through a partnership between Italy’s Fingen Groupand the Waitex Group of the United States. The outlet mall opened thismonth midway between Beijing and Tianjin, at a prime spot on thehigh-speed rail line, where it will feature outlet shops for some of theworld’s leading luxury brands. More than three-dozen brands includingPrada, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Salvatore Ferragamo, Fendi, Bulgari andCoach are present in the complex, which opened last month. Eventuallythe mall will include outlet shops for more than 100 brands, as well asrestaurants and drinking establishments, according to management. A bitout of keeping with the mall’s Italian theme, KFC is already inbusiness.
“We chose to launch our first China outlet under the brand nameFlorentia Village in Wuqing because of its potential to attract a newgeneration of stylish Chinese consumers with fast growing disposableincome in the luxury sector,” Ivano Poma, chairman and CEO of FlorentiaVillage and managing director of RDM Asia, said in a release about theopening. “We are excited to bring many famous Italian brands into anoutlet center in China for the first time with guaranteed affordableprices year round.”
“Our aim is to establish Florentia Village as a retail landmark fordesign, fashion and business success in China, by offering an authenticItalian outlet experience and unparalleled world-class management,” Pomaadded.
While the complex is big, lavish and unusual, amassing retail outlets ofworld-class luxury brands into one single space its nothing new forChina, where luxury malls abound. The real difference here for Chineseshoppers will be the price.
Developers say prices at Florentia Village will be reduced by 40-70percent from traditional retail outlets in other shopping areas inChina. In a country with fast-rising inflation and some of the world’shighest clothing prices, that’s no small incentive to take the train 17minutes out of Beijing to go shopping.
Just a few years ago, the mall might have seemed like a strangeendeavor. But China’s retail scene has exploded in the past five yearsand outlet malls are among the most popular new growth developments.
“It’s worth coming here on weekends to shop even if I only find a 20percent discount,” said Lu Tianyi, a 24-year-old browsing at the Coachstore in one of Beijing’s newer outlet malls on a recent Sundayafternoon.
Yet in China, the title outlet mall rarely means guaranteed discounts.Hu Weibo, a retail industry analyst with CITIC Securities in Beijing,said the country now has about 200 complexes calling themselves outletmalls. The numbers are somewhat deceptive as only about 10 percent meetthe international definition, which demands a certain caliber of brandand lower-than-normal prices.
“There are many outlet malls which are not qualified; I call them ‘fakeoutlets,’” said Zhu Bin, a retail industry analyst with GuosenSecurities in Shanghai. “I have been in some stores on the street whichalso call themselves outlets, even though they have only two floors andmost the products they sell are middle- and low-end brands.”
Fake outlets aside, the number of real outlet malls in China is expectedto increase by 15-20 percent in the next few years, according toanalysts.
The burgeoning growth in outlet malls that do offer deep discounts likeFlorentia Village are becoming a major draw, analysts and store clerkssay. Retail spaces that were empty at the start have given drawn largercrowds and even long lines as it becomes clear they are, in fact,selling at lower prices. Cost is such a deep concern for Chineseshoppers that thousands flock to Hong Kong, Tokyo and other retaildestinations to save on their purchases. Time will now tell how manyconsumers are willing to travel to the middle of fields and farms forPrada and Armani.