Chinese shoppers feel at home in UK stores

By Zhang Chunyan and Zhang Haizhou (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-28 13:40
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Chinese shoppers feel at home in UK stores

A China UnionPay terminal at a counter at a Selfridges department store in central London is one of many offering Chinese customers an easier payment option. [Photo / China Daily] 

LONDON - Department stores and high-end retailers in the British capital have seen a heartening rise in sales to Chinese tourists this year, something that experts believe was boosted by the installation of China UnionPay terminals.

"Following the introduction of 75 China UnionPay terminals at Harrods this year, we have seen a strong response from our Chinese visitors and this has been a key factor behind the growth in sales to these customers," a spokesperson from Harrods, a famous high-end UK store, told China Daily.

The addition of terminals from UnionPay, which is China's bank card network resembling Visa and MasterCard, enables Chinese customers to make payments directly from their domestic bank accounts.

"To ensure Chinese people receive the optimum level of service, we have more than 70 Mandarin-speaking sales staff on hand," the Harrods spokesperson added.

Michael Ward, managing director of Harrods, told the Financial Times that the store registered a 40-percent rise in sales to Chinese tourists in the first quarter of the year.

According to its figures, Chinese shoppers each spent an average of more than 3,500 pounds ($5,700) when they visited the store during the period, a 40 percent rise year-on-year.

Looking around Harrods, small groups of Chinese shoppers feature prominently. One Mandarin-speaking salesperson said she works with 20 to 30 Chinese visitors each day during the tourist season.

A Chinese shopper surnamed Chen from Zhejiang province said UK-based Burberry was her favorite clothing brand and she had bought six items.

Chinese bank cards will encourage shoppers to make multiple purchases, one saleswoman said.

"People sometimes choose an item they like and say, 'I want three' because they decide they will be nice gifts for friends and relatives," she explained, saying that the flexibility of the bank card allows them to make such spontaneous purchases.

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According to China UnionPay's UK office, there is no transaction fee or currency conversion fee on purchases with UnionPay cards, and therefore to pay with a UnionPay card is more economical than other payment methods.

Fashions, accessories, fine jewelry, cosmetics and fragrances from luxury brands including Herms, Chanel, Cartier and Louis Vuitton are among the items being favored by Chinese shoppers, according to Harrods.

The number of shops that accept China UnionPay in the UK has grown. Other high-end retailers have also began to adopt it, including watch retailer Watches of Switzerland and department store chain Selfridges.

Zhang Hanye, 22, who was born in Shanghai and moved to the UK when she was 12, works as a sales assistant at Watches of Switzerland near Bond Street in London. She believes her ability to communicate with Chinese customers helped her land the part-time job.

A retail assistant at Italian brand Miu Miu's store within Selfridges, who moved to London from Taiwan and who is fluent in Mandarin, said Chinese tourists have been well known in the past for traveling with a lot of cash and rarely using bank cards.

But UnionPay's London office said that is all changing now.

"We are working closely with our acquiring partners to expand UnionPay coverage in the UK," a representative of the office said.

"It is our target to cover as many merchants as possible that are frequently visited by tourists in London and the UK in time for the 2012 London Olympic Games."