How Bicester Village became a top tourism destination in the UK

By WANG MINGJIE | China Daily UK | Updated: 2017-11-20 17:37

How Bicester Village became a top tourism destination in the UK

Shoppers walk along a busy street in Bicester Village, which is now a major UK tourist destination. [Photo provided to China Daily]

As the train draws into a small town in Oxfordshire, the destination is announced in English, then Chinese and then Arabic. The stop is Bicester Village and it has become one of the most important destinations in the United Kingdom for international tourists.

At the weekends you might think that you were in China as there are so many Chinese visitors but the shopping village is one of the most popular destinations for Chinese holidaymakers in the UK after Buckingham Palace.

Bicester Village was inspired by US real estate investor Scott Malkin, who combined his experience of selling luxury goods with the US outlet mall concept to create a new kind of shopping center.

Malkin founded Value Retail Plc in 1992, with Bicester Village being its first center. The company has nine villages in Europe and two in China.

The center looks like a small town with high street shops. Each houses a luxurious brand such as Prada and Gucci. On average, goods are sold at 40 percent of their list price.

Chinese shoppers accounted for 40 percent of the business at Value Retail's villages in Europe last year, and this number is expected to grow as the number of Chinese visitors to Europe increases, according to consultancy Bain & Co.

Desiree Bollier, the chairwoman and chief merchant of Value Retail, said the company built a strong connection with Chinese customers from when they first opened.

"Our first trip to China was made in 2003, and at the time it was a quite novelty approach as no one was seeking Chinese consumers at that point," said Bollier, who joined Value Retail in 2001 after 14 years with Ralph Lauren.

"We promised an authentic relationship and developed a very strong partnership with different tourism operators and platforms," she said, "Over the years Bicester has become part of the itinerary for Chinese tourists visiting the UK."

Steve Wood, professor of retail marketing and management at University of Surrey, said brands such as Prada, Gucci, Dior and Celine are popular with brand conscious customers and relatively good value.

He said: "The factory outlet approach when dealing with luxury and higher end products might pose some challenges given the potential threat to the exclusive nature of the brands, but it is an excellent way of disposing end of season stock for retailers."

Ms Zheng, a Chinese shopper who would not give her full name, said Bicester Village is one of her favorite shopping destinations.

"The shopping experience here is great, and I can never have enough time shopping here, not even having time for food," she said.

Ms Du, a recent UK graduate from Guangzhou, works at the village as a fulltime freelance retail consultant, something known in China as a daigou.

She shops for clients in China who are willing to pay a premium for authentic luxury goods that are usually relatively cheaper than they are in China. She usually spends on average 10,000 pounds ($13,214) on 40 to 50 purchases a day.

"The price here is really appealing. A coat from less well-known brand in China would cost two to three hundred pounds, and here you can get one from a famous brand with same amount of money." she said.

Centers such as Bicester Village are not universally welcome. "There is also a threat that it educates the customer not to pay full price which might compromise the integrity of brands," Wood said,"The Bicester center itself is also a retail form that further pressures conventional high streets and town centers that have struggled in the face of out of town malls and online retailing."

Bollier said Chinese travelers will continue to drive growth in luxury retail.

"The Chinese middle-class incomers are expected to reach 250 million by 2030, and currently only 7 percent of the Chinese middle-class are on passport, so the growth potential is excessive," she said.

Zhang Yangfei contributed to this story.

Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349