This Friday, on Feb. 16, the Chinese New Year will officially kick off the “Year of the Dog,” and U.S. retailers will have a significant opportunity to tap into the tech-savvy, luxury-minded Chinese tourist base. Chinese tourists spend an estimated $261 billion while traveling internationally, according to the World Tourism Organization, and these travelers love to shop when they are abroad, especially for items that may not be readily available in China.
Chinese tourists tend to have high service expectations and are usually eager to spend on luxury goods, jewelry and apparel. Economists estimate that Chinese tourist–related spending totals about $200 billion globally each year, so retailers that focus on connecting with and serving these travelers are likely to see benefits. Below are five ways that retailers can cater to Chinese tourists who are visiting the U.S.
- Use technology to offer one-of-a-kind, exclusive shopping experiences.
Many Chinese consumers are hyper-connected and keep their mobile phones at their fingertips in order to stay current on news and trends as well as to message friends, schedule appointments, check prices, research products and purchase goods and services. These tech-savvy consumers also have an appetite for luxury products, and they want to be pampered. Retailers can cater to these sophisticated consumers by delivering personalized services, such as styling and concierge services, and exclusive promotions directly via mobile device. They can also design services specifically for Chinese tourists.
Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, an outlet mall located about an hour north of New York City, has developed a top-level luxury service and amenities tour for Chinese tour groups. The excursion serves thousands of shoppers every year. Other retailers have created exclusive destination experiences for special customers, offering one-of-a-kind, personalized services based on a new collection, color launch or unique experience.
- Make shopping fun and offer on-trend products and influencer collaborations.
In China, much shopping involves experiences, games or entertainment. For example, Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, held on Nov. 11 (“Singles’ Day”) every year, offers shoppers a 24-hour retail entertainment experience that includes a televised gala, music, dancing and social media influencers. Retailers in the U.S. that seek to attract Chinese tourist shoppers can partner with influencers and incorporate fun into the shopping experience.
Additionally, many Chinese tourists travel and shop with a specific brand or item in mind. So, retailers and brands that carefully research trends, and stock shelves with on-trend products, will likely benefit from their careful curation. Marketing to Chinese tourists before they go abroad is also helpful, and retailers can partner with Chinese influencers to ensure that their retail stores are on travelers’ “must-visit” lists before they even get on the plane.
- Ensure a frictionless payment experience.
Mobile phones are wallets in China, as many consumers in the country have enthusiastically adopted cashless payments for transactions that range from retail, entertainment and dining to transportation, lodging and even money transfers. Chinese consumers are used to a seamless checkout experience that requires just a simple tap of a QR code from a phone. Because so many Chinese consumers don’t carry physical wallets, requiring them to pay with a credit card or cash presents a hurdle for them.
Accordingly, retailers that accommodate Chinese shoppers by offering them familiar mobile payment options will better serve them. Some proactive U.S. companies — including Rebecca Minkoff, Lacoste, Airbnb, Uber, Caesars Palace and Menusifu — have already partnered with Alipay and Verifone. Providing mobile payment platforms that deliver information in shoppers’ native languages and currencies can make checkout more pleasant for both shopper and staff.
- Ensure a seamless travel experience.
Helping Chinese tourists navigate while traveling is another way for retailers to serve them. According to NYC & Company, the official marketing organization for the city’s five boroughs, more than half of Chinese tourists are first-time visitors to New York City, and more than a million Chinese tourists are expected to visit the city in 2018. Many of these first-timers, who tend to be younger and more affluent, will visit major tourist attractions in the city, presenting local retail destinations with marketing and promotional opportunities. Alipay offers Chinese tourists a native-language app to help them make travel arrangements, transfer money, call a cab, book a hotel, buy movie tickets and discover nearby shops and restaurants.
- Speak the language.
Another way retailers can connect with Chinese consumers is by communicating with them in their own language and demonstrating an appreciation of their culture. Companies that add Chinese signage in stores and bring in Chinese-speaking stylists and associates to help tourists find what they need demonstrate both an understanding of the challenges that these shoppers face when traveling and an effort to make them feel welcome and comfortable.
By offering premium services, bridging the payment and language gaps, and creating a retail experience that is simple and familiar, U.S. retailers can attract and establish relationships with Chinese tourists, a large and growing segment of shoppers that is excited to shop overseas brands.
Souheil Badran is president of Alipay North America.
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