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UK retailers seek to tap into Chinese New Year celebrations

UK retailers are gearing up to capitalise on the growing international spending power of tourists from China during Chinese New Year, but say the emphasis should be on small gestures in order to maximise sales.

The celebrations, which this year start on February 19, are expected to lead to an even greater sales boost than that experienced during February 2014 when sales rose 23%, according to tax-free sales tracking business Global Blue, as the festivities will coincide with London Fashion Week.

February is one of the strongest months for Chinese spend in the UK, due to higher travel rates to European destinations during the week-long public holiday, with Chinese shoppers’ average transactions reaching £740, four times as much as domestic shoppers. By buying high-price products in the UK, Chinese consumers can make tax-free savings of between 14% and 40%.

Around 23,000 Chinese visitors are expected to come to the UK during February, an increase of 26.1% on last year, and will visit stores like Harvey Nichols, which is hosting a number of exclusive events in its fifth floor café, bar and restaurant, such as a beauty masterclass. Both Vivienne Westwood and The Cambridge Satchel Company have created dedicated customisations around the year of the sheep theme, while Selfridges said it plans to light the exterior of its London flagship red and place dedicated swing tags to highlight items favoured by Chinese buyers. It has also created a limited edition version of its Selfridges gift card.

However, a spokesman for Selfridges said the focus is on readying shop floor staff to deal with international shoppers rather than “grand gestures” and it has a greater number of Chinese-language speakers than in previous years, with as many as 25.

Tammy Fraser, marketing and sales manager of Global Blue, agreed retailers should maintain their identity during the event: “International shoppers are becoming more and more important to UK retailers and for some they make up a larger proportion of customers than domestic.

“Chinese shoppers appreciate effort [made by UK retailers], but it’s important not to go overboard because they still want to see the European way of doing things. It’s about the small things that acknowledge Chinese culture.”

Shopping centre owner Westfield, which runs Westfield London and Westfield Stratford, said Chinese New Year will drive both domestic and international numbers up to record highs. Between February 19 and 22, both centres will host events including a Chinese cooking masterclass, lion dance performances and a Chinese tea ceremony.

Westfield marketing director for UK and Europe Myf Ryan said: “Chinese tourists are increasingly spending more each time they visit the UK. Supporting our retailers to attract these shoppers is an important focus for both our London centres, particularly around key shopping moments like Chinese New Year.”

@LukeToddUK

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