In Last 18 Months, Chinese Shoppers Have Replaced Russian And Middle Eastern Shoppers As Powerful Force On High Street
Last week, the Jing Daily team had the opportunity to speak with Linda Pilkington, the founder of the London-based perfumery Ormonde Jayne, about the changes she’s seen in the British luxury retail landscape as more Chinese tourists have headed to London. Although perfume and cologne are not as widely worn on a regular basis in China as they are in Western markets, Ms. Pilkinton has noticed a growing number of Chinese shoppers gradually replacing the Russian, Middle Eastern and American shoppers who make up much of Ormonde Jayne’s present customer base. Discussing these and other trends in the London high-end retail market, Ms. Pilkington shared with us some of her observations — both personal and professional — on how Chinese shoppers are shaping, and will continue to shape, the global luxury market.
Linda Pilkington, who opened the first Ormonde Jayne boutique on Bond Street in 2002, is no stranger to China, having traveled to the mainland and Hong Kong a number of times over the years to source native fragrances. Ormonde Jayne’s “Osmanthus” line, modeled after the osmanthus shrubs that are commonly seen (and smelled) in parks throughout China, is one of the company’s most popular fragrances, particularly among visiting Chinese tourists. Telling us about the reaction that Chinese shoppers — many of whom are traveling with tour groups from mainland China — have to her company’s fragrances, Pilkington said that introducing her products to Chinese tourists, who rarely speak English, is a far “purer experience,” as they’re less swayed by marketing-speak and are simply choosing products based on personal, sensual preferences.
This, Ms. Pilkington observed, is a very important development, since Chinese luxury shoppers typically seek out the items that are most ostentatious and heavily branded — Louis Vuitton bags, Chanel sunglasses, etc. — and luxury fragrances, as an “invisible status symbol,” are a comparatively new concept for them.
Discussing the differences between shoppers from mainland China and Hong Kong, Pilkington noted that it’s not always easy to tell where a given customer comes from, but Hong Kong-based shoppers tend to speak English at a fairly high level and dress in a more “European” style, while mainland Chinese often shop in groups and — as mentioned earlier — often do not speak English. Additionally, many Hong Kong residents — who mostly grew up during colonial British rule — already have the habit of wearing perfume or cologne while this generation of Chinese shoppers is really the first to give it a try.
As for visible trends in the demographics of shoppers on the high street in London, Pilkington said there has been a noticeable shift in the last 18 months from Russian and Middle Eastern shoppers to Asian — particularly Chinese — shoppers. When asked if the growing numbers of Chinese shoppers in Ormonde’s Bond St. boutique, or at Ormonde Jayne’s counter at Harrod’s, has had an effect on the products she’s introducing, Linda Pilkington said she is putting less focus on introducing new fragrances and more on products that highlight British craftsmanship and quality, such as cosmetic puffs, yet this is not solely the result of greater Chinese interest.
Jing Daily then asked Ms. Pilkington about her future plans, and whether she expects to take Ormonde Jayne to the China market. In terms of immediate plans, Pilkington said she plans to open six new points of sale in London in the next two years, and is then considering international locations in Russia and the Middle East by 2011-2012. She also plans to expand into the U.S. market by 2012.
In terms of the China market, Pilkinton is considering moving first into department stores or opening a specialized boutique in Hong Kong as a first step into China, but is weighing options on expanding into mainland China — with Shanghai as the most likely candidate — in the short- to medium-term.
While courting Chinese consumers in the luxury fragrance market is difficult, as companies need to overcome both the present logo-worship of Chinese customers while investing time in customer education, Linda Pilkinton’s observations about mainland Chinese customers — who often wander into her Bond St. boutique while on tour groups, choose fragrances based on personal preference rather than being swayed by sales staff or marketing materials, and are drawn to the British craftsmanship and packaging of her products — are valuable indicators of a broader trend we’ve kept an eye on in the Chinese luxury market: that of many Chinese luxury consumers becoming sophisticated to the point of looking beyond popular logos to find what they really like on a personal level.
The Jing Daily team would like to thank Linda Pilkington for taking the time to speak to us. More information about Ms. Pilkington and her products is available on the Ormonde Jayne website.