Five ways UK retailers can attract Chinese tourists

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This year’s annual Chinese Golden Week holiday, where millions of Chinese tourists surge to the world’s shopping capitals, naturally saw a large upswing in luxury sales among UK retailers. However, it also shone the spotlight on a missed opportunity for the UK economy, one that the government is looking to correct in time for next year’s Golden Week.

On the first of his five-day tour of China, the UK Chancellor, George Osborne, announced relaxed visa rules for Chinese citizens looking to holiday in the UK.

Chinese tourism is a global trend where the UK is currently playing catch-up. Last year, 1.2 million Chinese tourists visited countries in mainland Europe on Schengen visas, while only 200,000 visited the UK. This is mainly due to the UK’s convoluted and costly visa processes, where Chinese tourists need to apply for separate visas if they want to visit the UK and the Continent. The new laws would remove such inconveniences.

For UK retailers, the economic potential of the new arrangement is enormous. The Chinese are now the world’s most valuable tourist, with the typical Chinese tourist in London spending an average US$12,800, according to the China Daily.

UK retailers, having long been making increased efforts to attract China’s new moneyed-class, have benefited significantly, albeit relatively less than cities such as Paris.

But now that the government is seemingly on board at last, retailers can expect substantially greater demand from the larger volume of Chinese tourists anticipated to arrive in London and other major cities in the UK.

To help UK retailers maximise this golden opportunity to welcome more Chinese visitors to their establishments and to turn those visits into revenue, here are our recommendations:

1. Accept UnionPay Cards

For a retailer this is possibly the most fundamental step to attracting any Chinese customer. Due to regulatory control, UnionPay, China’s most widely used domestic bank card is often the only one Chinese visitors have in their wallet.  Unfortunately, UK’s major department stores, such as John Lewis, only began accepting the card as recently as last year.

An easy-to-spot sticker in your window showing that you accept UnionPay bank cards therefore serves as well as a welcome sign written in Chinese, which itself may not be a bad idea for display alongside the UnionPay decal.

2. Don’t just offer them your goods

Chinese customers like to be given respect – mianzi (face) in their parlance – before they dip into their pockets.  Show them you understand that and you will be rewarded in spades.  The China Daily recently reported that the more “thoughtful” fashion houses in Paris went an extra mile in employing “tea masters” to prepare the perfect blend of longjing tea for Chinese customers.

On a hot day, offer a chilled flannel folded on a silver tray together with a bottle of chilled mineral water.  Or, in the depth of winter, take care of their overcoats so they are not hot and bothered while browsing inside the heated shop.  If the time of day is appropriate, show them the ritual of the English tea service replete with shortbread cookies.  Be creative; the goal is to show respect.  Mianzi is an integral part of a great customer experience.

3. Maintain a bi-lingual company website

The new moneyed-class in China is among the most Internet-savvy.  Many of them will research and plan their trips abroad online, and most of them will prefer to read in their native language: Chinese.

Their first impression of your establishment will come from cyberspace.  A taste for luxury brands means that Chinese travelers are planning their shopping itinerary before they even get on an airplane. Not enough UK brands take this into account and exploit the opportunity to make a positive impression. Offer a choice of English or Chinese language prominently on the home page of your website; you are effectively telling them you consider the China market important and that you want to welcome Chinese visitors to your store. This will pay huge dividends provided that the Chinese translation is done professionally, in proper Chinese, rather than a direct translation of the English by some language software.

4. You and your staff should be well-versed in Chinese etiquette

  • Each culture comes with its own social norms and etiquette, and the Chinese are no different. While it would be impossible to provide an exhaustive list of dos and don’ts in Chinese etiquette, the following reminders will not go amiss:
  • Always maintain a respectful demeanor, with a smile on your face and head very slightly bowed.
  • Try not to look the customer in the eye in any sustained, prolonged fashion.  That could be construed too easily as hostile or at least disrespectful.
  • Offer products and amenities as well as accept cash, credit or name cards with both hands.
  • Keep your patience and respectful posture no matter how loud or rude the customer may appear to be; don’t take it personally because it’s more likely to be a cultural or language barrier.  The consequences of your losing patience would be graver than the mere loss of one sale: bad comments directed at any foreign brand, fair or unfair, will spread like wild fire on the blogosphere.  There are too many precedents to cite.

5. Learn some basic Chinese phrases

Chinese customers do not expect foreign shopkeepers to be fluent in Chinese, all the more reason that some polite small talk and the odd compliment in their mother tongue would go further than you think. To them this is an unmistakable sign of respect that they command, and they are likely to reward you at the cash register.

Learn these basic phrases:

  • Nî hâo – hello
  • Qǐng zuò – Please take a seat
  • Nî xǐhuan shénme? – What would you like?
  • Yào – Yes
  • Hâo de – OK (as in agreement)
  • Xièxie – Thank you
  • Hěn Hâo – Very Good
  • Hěn shìhé nǐ – It suits you very much

Today Translations is a London-based translation, interpreting and cultural consulting company, dedicated to helping UK businesses expand their reach into new regions and markets around the world.

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