HONG KONG — Chinese shoppers love Harrods, and Harrods loves them right back.
The company’s managing director Michael Ward, who toured Hong Kong and Shanghai over the weekend, revealed that Chinese customers now spend more at the storied London luxury department store than U.K. shoppers, making them its most valuable customer segment, as of this year.
“As an individual country, it’s now our biggest customer, and it continues to grow strongly for us,” Ward said. “We haven’t seen any dilution because of local demand or anything else. People want to come to London because it’s the international capital of the world.”
The average spend per Chinese customer ranges from 2,500 to 3,000 pounds, depending on the season, while the overall Harrods shopper spends “significantly less.”
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In an effort to further appeal to Asians, Harrods has launched a regional edition of its magazine, with Jan Masters at the helm.
The debut issue of the Asian magazine – published in May and November – contains 116 pages curated specifically for a regional audience. Of the 30,000 total copies printed, 18,000 were sent to top-tier Harrods clients, with another 8,000 in luxury hotel partners such as the Mandarin Oriental, and another 4,000 in first class airport lounges and other premium retail and corporate locations.
Harrods has published a monthly U.K. magazine for the past 11 years and launched its Arabian version a year ago.
“We are now producing something that would be on the coffee table with Vogue, but I want it to be on top of Vogue,” Masters said.
“We have great access to designers that other people may have a real struggle to pin down. But we get to work with them, collaborate with them, really get to know them. That’s the kind of interview you want to read,” she continued.
While Harrods is making strides to attune itself to an Asian audience, the publication is only available in English, as Harrods has found it adds to its brand prestige.
“I think [publishing in Chinese is] something we’ll keep on the agenda, but increasingly we see that it is seen as more authentic and it gives it a degree of difference over things that are going into local language. We will watch it, but probably stay in English,” Ward said.
“We’ve also monitored websites in Mandarin and English, and all the research comes back that they prefer it in English,” Ward continued.
Offering Chinese payment mechanisms has been crucial for the demographic growth, but for the most part, “we just stick to being British and it works well,” he said.
The long-time director of Harrods, who also serves as the chairman of Walpole, an organization which promotes British luxury, is bullish on the industry as a whole. As WWD reported in August, Harrods is investing heavily to renovate its store, and plans to spend nearly 200 million pounds over the next three to three-and-a-half years.
“There’s always the doomsayers but it’s never actually been so,” Ward said. “We’ve always seen good growth in luxury. The brands are much more attuned to the millennials and we are starting to see that growth come through.”
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Does Ward fear the Chinese customer segment may end up alienating local clientele and shoppers of other nationalities?
“No,” he said firmly. “We’ve never targeted mass tourism. This isn’t about having thousands of people coming through the store. This is a small number of discerning customers who love fashion and want to shop in Harrods. We’ve always invested ahead of the curve in the areas that people shop. We are not Galeries Lafayette who relegate people to the rear of the stores or make people queue, then we would lose our local customer.”