LONDON — London stores are grooming themselves for the rising tide of foreign tourists — and especially the Chinese — set to visit this year.
Harvey Nichols is rolling out the red carpet for the Chinese, with a special edit of products across fashion, beauty and food in anticipation of Lunar New Year on Feb. 19. “We have seen an increase in the number of international Chinese shoppers over the past three years, and a 50 percent increase in spend,” said the store.
It cited statistics from the tourist agency Premier Tax Free that 23,000 Chinese visitors are expected to come to the U.K. in February, an increase of 26.1 percent on last year. Premier is also predicting a younger demographic of customer that will be looking to purchase local and niche brands, and not just big brand names, the store said.
Harvey Nichols is also working with the top Chinese chef Ching He Huang on a special menu and will open a Yum Bun Pop-Up in the Fifth Floor Foodmarket, serving sweet buns stuffed with Yee Kwan ice cream.
Selfridges, meanwhile, has just unveiled an expanded customer services space catering specifically to the needs of tax-free shoppers. The store said it invested “multi-millions” on the area, which has tripled in size and been relocated from the basement to the fourth floor, overlooking Oxford Street.
There is a Tax Refund Lounge, two Tax Free processing halls, and VIP areas for high net worth individuals. The store has even built an unadorned Faith Room where customers of any religion can worship or meditate during the shopping day. The store said its international business has grown consistently over recent years, and the new space is set to accommodate future growth.
The sharp rise of the Chinese yuan and U.S. dollar against the euro and pound over the past six months and the ongoing political tensions in Hong Kong are re-shaping tourist patterns, and driving more Chinese tourists abroad, to Europe and other parts of Asia.
“We expect wealthy Chinese to resume travel in early 2015, not so much to Hong Kong, but rather to more attractive destinations elsewhere in Asia and to Europe — notably as the weaker EUR and GBP boost their purchasing power,” said HSBC in a report published earlier this week on the Chinese luxury shopper.
The report added that luxury stores’ customer bases are becoming ever more international.
“Hong Kong, Paris and London stores are selling very little to locals, and every other key city has seen tourists increase as a proportion of their sales. In other words, luxury stores are becoming incrementally cosmopolitan in nature and, as travel restrictions ease, we believe this will only go one way — towards ever more client profile diversity in the store. We believe Chinese now represent close to a third of luxury sales, more than two thirds happening abroad,” according to HSBC.