Appeared In
Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 11/17/2011

MILAN — A new survey of the top shopping destinations in Europe by the Economist Intelligence Unit and tax-refund giant Global Blue contains some surprises.

According to the new “Globe Shopper City Index — Europe,” the first of what will likely be a series of similar indexes for other regions in the world, Barcelona and Madrid tied as the second-best place in Europe for shopping, while Budapest just brushed past Milan to make it into the top 10. London — with its wide selection of shops and excellent hotel and transport links, among other criteria — took first place overall. Geneva, constrained by its high prices and its less-than-excellent cultural attractions — placed last. Paris (third) and Rome (fifth) also made it into the top five.

This story first appeared in the November 17, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The index, presented Wednesday here and which can be consulted online at, measures the ability of 33 European cities to attract international shoppers. Every city was evaluated according to 38 measures, including store locations and opening hours; languages spoken by sales staff; the availability, quality and price range of hotels and restaurants; the number of cultural attractions; climate conditions, and transport links.

The choice to debut the index with Europe was natural, said Irene Mia, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s director for Latin America, considering that nearly half of global tourist receipts are spent here. Enhancing the index’s usefulness as a travel planning tool to international shoppers is its ability to be “customized,” allowing users to generate personalized rankings by modifying the parameters. Travelers planning a trip to Europe can then re-rank cities by assigning higher value to affordable hotels and restaurants or place greater priority on cultural attractions.

The index is also a valuable business tool, according to Luigi Gallazzini, Global Blue senior vice-president of sales. The ability to customize the parameters means that it can be used by company managers to run simulations in order to determine where to open future shops, Gallazzini told WWD. Simulations can “help brands understand how the tourist profile has changed over the years, for example by observing changing tourist flows.”

While London’s position as the number one shopping destination in Europe probably won’t raise many eyebrows, work on the index led to some surprises, according to Mia and Gallazzini. For example, Barcelona’s and Madrid’s presence among the top five may seem unexpected compared with what are considered more traditional rankings of top shopping destinations in Europe. “These two cities ranked very high in terms of economic convenience, climate and cultural offering,” Mia told WWD.

Also, the index revealed how eastern Europe is rapidly becoming a shopping destination, especially for budget-conscious deal hunters. Unsurprisingly cities in this area scored high on affordability, with Sofia, Bratislava, Bucharest and Kiev leading the way. But they also ranked high thanks to the availability of multilingual sales staff. “Kiev is much higher on the list than Milan, in terms of language skills,” Mia said, “even though less strong in terms of cultural attractiveness.”

Gallazzini said he was surprised to learn that “more than 80 percent of Russian and Chinese travelers travel in order to shop.” And travelers’ preferences, in terms of location, are changing. “Germany is today very appealing to Chinese shoppers,” according to the Global Blue executive. “It’s easy to reach, safe, accessible in terms of prices and promotes itself well. Also, it was the first country in the EU to simplify visa rules for Chinese travelers.”

Another revealing insight, especially for those brands that are looking to do ever more business with Chinese customers, is that many travelers from the Asian country are bargain hungers and expect to be able to haggle on prices with sales staff — something European brands are unlikely to appreciate. “There are customers with different expectations and we offer brands and managers information on these expectations,” Gallazzini explained.

During the presentation Tomas Mostany, Global Blue’s vice president of sales and country manager for Italy, reminded the audience of the opportunities from Chinese travelers. In 2020, there will be nearly 100 million Chinese citizens traveling around the world shopping, Mostany said, adding that from April to September tourists from the People’s Republic spent some 950 million euros, or $1.4 billion, on tax free shopping in Europe, up 53 percent on a year ago.

“This figure will continue to grow,” Mostany said, adding that while only five years ago the U.S. and Japan ranked first and second place in terms of travel shopping receipts generated in Europe, they have been replaced by Russia and China. And Brazil and Indonesia are quickly climbing up the rankings.

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