As China celebrates the “Year of the Rooster” through Feb. 15, tourists from the country continue to travel abroad — spending heavily on accessories, apparel and luxury goods. Economists estimate Chinese tourist-related spending to be around $200 billion globally.
But there are challenges to selling this market. Souheil Badran, the president of Alipay North America, said ongoing barriers include language and cultural differences, which can sour the shopping experience and impact sales.
Here, Badran discusses the importance of the Chinese tourist, opportunities in the market and how his company is positioning Alipay as a tool for retailers and brands to better serve this segment.
WWD: Why is the Chinese tourism market so important to the global retail community?
Souheil Badran: Chinese tourists love to shop when they are abroad. They are able to find items they would otherwise not be able to find in China, as well as pricing that is more affordable, which makes for a great overall shopping experience. And with the Chinese economy booming right now, we are seeing even more tourists coming to North America. This year, in fact, it’s predicted that three million tourists will be visiting the United States, up from two million last year.
This means that retailers are being given a unique opportunity to tap into this enthusiastic group of shoppers who are coming to the U.S. ready to spend.
WWD: As Chinese New Year begins to peak, what should retailers in the U.S. and Canada be thinking about as they consider marketing to Chinese tourists?
S.B.: Chinese tourists have long battled with language and cultural differences when visiting other countries. Smart retailers that bring strategies that connect with these consumers and offer a Chinese-friendly shopping experience will benefit the most.
For example, retailers should add signage with Chinese characters to their stores, accept a payment method that is familiar to the Chinese consumer, and even bring in Chinese-speaking staff to help these tourists find what they need.
Retailers should also consider their inventory. Many Chinese tourists are shopping with a specific item or brand in mind. Retailers should do their research and stock up on these items, and make sure they have enough of an “it” product.
It’s also nice to give Chinese-exclusive treatment or benefits, like red envelopes, discounts or even a private styling service that is only available to Chinese tourists.
Some retailers might think about marketing to Chinese tourists even before they leave China, partnering with influencers to make sure their stores are on their “go-to” list before they get on the plane.
WWD: Describe how Alipay’s in-store technology is enhancing the shopping experience for Chinese consumers traveling outside of China?
S.B.: Alipay is the most popular payment platform in China. Now we are extending beyond China to offer the Chinese tourist fast, easy and familiar payment when they travel. Instead of traveling with currency and having to deal with exchange rates, Chinese tourists can pay with their mobile device. For retailers, it makes the transaction simple because they don’t need to find a way to communicate with the tourist who may not speak their language.
Chinese travelers are also able to use the Alipay app to make their entire travel experience easier. For example, they can quickly transfer money, call a cab, book a hotel, buy movie tickets, or discover nearby shops and restaurants, without even having to download any additional apps like Uber or Airbnb. It’s at their fingertips, in their language, all in one app.
WWD: How is Alipay bridging the gap for North American retailers and Chinese consumers shopping in the U.S. and Canada?
S.B.: Both the North American retailer and the Chinese tourist abroad share the same pain point: the language barrier. Alipay is bridging this gap by extending our services beyond the Chinese border, giving Chinese tourists everything they need to enjoy their travel and shopping experience in North America through a simple, familiar app. For retailers, Alipay simplifies the payment experience while also drawing more people to their stores. It’s a win-win.