As CLA found in recent discussions with Chinese tourist-shoppers in Paris, the demands of outbound Chinese travelers are rapidly changing, making it difficult for retailers and brands to anticipate who’ll show up, what they’ll want, and how staff should approach them. In the case of Paris, a steadily growing number of independent travelers are looking to avoid hordes of Chinese tourists, seeking out lesser-known brands and avoiding major department stores and malls.
In New York, which has seen Chinese arrivals grow exponentially over the past decade (surpassing 740,000 in 2014), independent travelers are also looking to avoid the crowds and explore new shopping venues and experiences. To get a sense of how these tourists are approaching the city’s huge array of luxury boutiques, iconic department stores, and multi-brand stores, CLA interviewed Chinese shoppers on Fifth Avenue.
Among the insights gathered from our interviews:
They’re Still Price-Driven
Although a significant number of Chinese travelers interviewed by CLA indicated they were doing a significant amount of shopping (“I need to buy shoes and cosmetics for my family and friends.”), most told us they were still hunting for bargains and discounts. Some were visiting large department stores simply to try on items. (“I am trying [shoes] on so I can order the right style and the right size online when they are on sale.”)
They’re Shopping at Department Stores–Albeit Tactically
As CLA found in Paris, a growing number of Chinese tourist-shoppers are looking to “get in and get out” at large department stores, rather than spend hours stocking up on different brands. This is particularly true for beauty purchases. According to one interviewee, “Usually I shop [at] Sephora. But Bergdorf Goodman has Jo Malone.”
Chinese-Speaking Salespeople Remain Crucial
Virtually every interviewee pointed out that Chinese-speaking salespeople are an important motivator of return visits, with several noting that they felt self-conscious being helped by non-Chinese speakers.
Another interesting finding was that they specifically prefer younger, female, Asian sales staff over male salespeople. Said one respondent, “I don’t really understand it when [male salesmen talk] to me. So it’s kind of awkward. I would not come here if my friend were not here with me. I would love to listen to [an] Asian female salesperson’s comment and advice. They understand.”
Easier, Longer Visas are Changing the Landscape
CLA spoke with a Chinese salesperson who works at a luxury boutique on Madison Avenue, who noted a significant change in the Chinese tourist-shopper landscape in New York. According to the salesperson, “The best years are gone. In 2012 and 2013, you [didn’t] need to worry about clients and sales at all — they’d come in and buy. But it’s getting worse and worse over the past two years. I believe every store can feel the decline of Chinese buyers.”
When asked to elaborate, the salesperson said it was likely due to easier, longer visas–which mean shoppers can come back to the US more often and buy less on each trip. As she pointed out, “Now, basically everyone can visit the country and the visa is valid for 10 years. So the quality of customers [has] dropped.”
Students–Not Necessarily from New York–Continue to Spend
Another interesting development in New York is a growing number of Chinese international students in surrounding states who travel to the city to shop. As one Pennsylvania-based student, visiting one of New York’s most famous luxury department stores, put it, “I come here every time I visit New York,” adding, “You don’t understand if you live in New York. There’s literally nothing in my school area.”
International Shipping is an In-Demand Perk
In addition to sniffing out discounts and deals, independent tourists told us they see international shipping to China as a value-add to drive future purchases. When asked what one department store could do to improve the shopping experience, one shopper told us, “I wish [the store] had international shipping to China on its website. They only ship to certain countries in Asia. China is definitely not one of them.”