Le shopping with a Chinese twist

Updated: 2015-02-20 09:27

By Riazat Butt and Tuo yannan(China Daily Europe)

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City of Light combines its elan with special services to make elite customers from china feel at home

Paris is home to some of the world's most popular tourist attractions - the Eiffel tower, the Louvre and the Champs-Elysees - and also home to some of the world's most famous luxury labels.

In the French capital, world-famous department stores welcome Chinese shoppers with red envelopes, limited-edition goods, Mandarin-speaking staff and VIP services. Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, two of the most established and upscale retailers in the French capital, understand the importance of catering to the Chinese market.

Neither store discloses how much money Chinese tourists will spend or which brands are most popular among them, but these two stores are prepared for Spring Festival, the holiday built around Chinese New Year.

Printemps Haussman is holding a fashion show on Feb 26 to celebrate the new year, which fell on Feb 18, a department store representative tells China Daily, and there is a dragon dance performance. It has prepared special collections with certain brands, such as Dolce & Gabbana, that feature exclusive designs. Some brands are also offering gifts to those Chinese customers who spend a certain amount of money.

Paolo de Cesare, chief executive officer and chairman at Printemps, says 40 percent of sales come from overseas shoppers, who account for 20 percent of the store's total visitor number. Chinese customers account for half of its overseas shoppers. A Chinese lady made the single biggest purchase at Printemps in 2014. Cesare will not say how much she spent, only that it was a very large amount. "We celebrate Russian New Year, but not on this scale. No one can compete with Chinese New Year celebrations. They're definitely the largest," says Cesare.

Galeries Lafayette, in addition to maps and signs in Chinese, also has special collections to celebrate Spring Festival and is hosting parties so that French shoppers can learn more about the occasion.

Less than an hour away from the ornate facades of Printemps and Galeries Lafayette is La Vallee Village, an outlet mall specializing in the sale of discounted designer brands. La Vallee is run by Value Retail, the same company that runs the wildly popular Bicester Village in the United Kingdom.

The French development in Serris, Seine-et-Marne, features red signs and promotions wishing Chinese customers a happy Spring Festival. There are benefits for Chinese customers, who can use their red envelopes for an additional 20 percent discount on certain brands and to gain entry to a temporary salon for a drink of hot chocolate.

Marisa Minelli, senior tourism manager at La Vallee, says Chinese customers form the biggest group among its overseas visitors. Half of the mall's sales are from foreign tourists, with the Chinese accounting for between 35 and 40 percent of this group. A VIP room is available for Chinese customers. "They only stay for five minutes, then they run for shopping. They appreciate that we have this delicate attention and service. But at the same time, they don't have a lot of time to rest because they want to shop and shop," Minelli says.

A woman who identified herself as Mrs Fan, a 40-year-old entrepreneur from Beijing, is shopping for fashion products in and around the streets of the 9th arrondissement. She has a budget of several thousand euros. "I am buying wedding rings for a couple I know very well. The couple has chosen the model and size, I just need to buy them in France, where they are much cheaper." She cites shopping as the main reason for visiting Europe, given that many retailers are holding their winter sales, and she goes abroad once or twice a year. "I buy luxury items abroad because they are cheaper, authentic and I am sure of the quality."

Zhang Chao is a 24-year-old student who lives in Marseilles. "I was passing by Paris and went to visit La Vallee. Most people want me to buy bags for them, especially now the euro has depreciated in value. They haven't given me the money upfront, but they will reimburse me when I take the goods back to China."

Zhang, like Fan, says price is his main reason for buying luxury items overseas. At La Vallee there are long queues at the tax refund center.

France benefits from being in the Schengen area, a bloc of 26 countries in Europe that needs only one visa. Under this agreement, Chinese travelers can move from one Schengen country to another without further formalities at border crossings. Italy and Switzerland, two other luxury brand powerhouses, are also part of the agreement. However, the UK is not. The United Nations World Tourism Organization says that, beyond the Asia-Pacific region, Europe is the biggest destination for Chinese travelers, attracting more than 3 million Chinese visitors in 2011.

Parisian efforts to entice Chinese shoppers - whether through dragon dance performances, photo opportunities with Miss France or extra discounts for Spring Festival - are working.

France outstrips its Mediterranean neighbors when it comes to the "Peking Pound". A Chinese tourist will spend up to 900 euros ($1,029) in Spain, but in Paris the amount jumps to 1,500 euros a visit. The capital is the top tourist destination in the world - with about 32.3 million visitors in 2013 - and the Chinese formed the fifth-largest group of visitors after the UK, the United States, Germany and Italy.

Paris is also the preferred shopping city in the world among the Chinese, according to Global Blue, a tourism shopping tax refund service provider. Rupert Hoogewerf, founder and compiler of the Hurun China Rich List and other research material regarding China's elite, says France consistently rates highly among the country's super rich. "The appeal of Paris is enormous: wine, luxury, art, food. There's an element of that high, extended lifestyle.

In Hurun's Best of the Best List 2015, France comes in second to Australia for top international luxury travel destination, beating the Maldives and Dubai, and Air France ranks higher than British Airways for its first and business class travel.

"French brands have built up a cachet and it's had a huge impact on China. Chanel is the queen of luxury for women. Hermes and LV (Louis Vuitton) are popular with Chinese men," Hoogewerf says.

"As the Chinese domestic luxury market has flattened out because of high prices and the anti-corruption drive, there has been this overseas shopping spree. It's putting pressure on the brands, and it's a real headache for them. They need to maintain that standard of service. Someone who buys a watch in Switzerland will expect that level of service in China. It's a challenge."

Contact the writers through riazat@chinadaily.com.cn

Le shopping with a Chinese twist

A woman inspects bags at Galeries Lafayette on the first day of the winter sales in Paris on Jan 8. Frederic Stevens / Getty Images

(China Daily European Weekly 02/20/2015 page8)