Shanghai-Based Expert Shares Insights On Rapidly Expanding Sector
When Lin Xu, the digital marking manager at Affinity China, a lifestyle platform for affluent Chinese travelers, was recently traveling in Europe to attend a friend’s wedding and researching Chinese free independent travel tourism trends, she made several useful observations about service industries and retail shops regarding how they can better tailor their services to Chinese customers. Below, she provides eight important pieces of advice for any international company hoping to appeal to visitors from China.
Tell us how much we are saving when we shop in your store.
Everyone already knows by now that Chinese travelers love shopping for luxury goods when they travel overseas. Everyone also knows by now that this is because retail prices of luxury goods in mainland China are much higher than Europe and North America. Many of my friends from China travel overseas just to shop. They often complain about the complexity and the long wait at the airport to receive tax returns and all the research they have to do on prices in each different market on the globe before they go shop.
It would be a really effective sales tactic if the brand’s sales representatives saved them the trouble of researching and let them learn how smart a purchase they would have made on items in the store–how much lower the prices are, how the styles are exclusive in your store vs. the counterparts in China. Keep the fact sheet handy for the big spenders. I understand that from a global brand perspective this is probably not a standard sales training tactic on how to sell to Chinese travelers, but the fact is they are already going to great lengths to do this research themselves before they walk into your store. From a customer experience perspective, being greeted by friendly sales staff overseas who can share exactly how much the Chinese travelers would be saving by shopping in their store would help generate more short term sales and help create a long term affinity for the brand.
Do you offer a global warranty and customer service in China for products we buy overseas?
If you present yourself as a global brand in China, you need to ensure your customer service is global too. It really becomes an uncomfortable dilemma for the Chinese traveler when they have to choose between a better priced item that is 20 percent lower overseas but comes with no warranty once they bring it back home or buying the higher priced item in China with a two-year standard warranty. Again, from a customer standpoint we don’t understand why there should be a difference. Your brand is a global brand to us and therefore the warranty and service you offer should be too.
Please accept UnionPay.
The primary Chinese payment method is not accepted in most of the places I’ve been to the last few weeks. On this trip so far I’ve traveled to Munich, Salzburg, Regensburg, Berlin, Prague and Dresden. Unfortunately, I can only use my Visa card to pay for items or withdraw cash from ATMs when I need to purchase something. I have a Visa card from my years studying and working in the U.S. before returning to China recently. Keep in mind many Chinese travelers only have UnionPay cards or cash when they travel. So far, the only place I’ve visited on this trip that accepts Unionpay cards is a department store called “Gelarie” in Regensburg (a small town 1 hour drive away from Munich), which surprised me a little. If a little department store in a small town outside Munich is savvy enough to accept Chinese credit and debit cards, then most other places should to don’t you think?
Taking photos of an item in your store does not mean we are all counterfeiters.
Before I left for Munich, Germany, a friend of mine in China asked me to look at carry-on Rimowa suitcases for her. So I went to a Rimowa store in central Munich, I looked at all the different colors, sizes, materials and prices, etc and sent the information to her. She still asked for one more thing–a photo of the actual products displayed in the store. When I asked for a permission of photos, the Rimowa staff immediately said no. The friends whom I went to the store with told me that the Rimowa staff had that poilcy probably because they believed the photos would likely be used to produce counterfeits in other countries. I was able to do a quick Baidu search and pull up the product image from the company’s site on the web.
My reason for wanting to take a photo while in the store was simply to confirm in that moment if I had found the right item she wanted to purchase. She simply wanted to confirm it was the correct item she wanted so I could purchase the 600-Euro item for her. It was rather off putting to have someone assume I was going to take a photo of the item to counterfeit it in China. I understand Rimowa’s concerns, but I don’t think it’s a smart policy for in-store sales. It also shows a lack of understanding of Chinese shopping and travel culture to assume that all Chinese taking photographs are going to counterfeit the product. Lots of Chinese tourists travel to Europe with MANY shopping requests from their different circles of friends because most of us only get to travel overseas a few times a year because we work in China.
Restaurant menus with pictures please.
It’s great that almost all German restaurants and cafes have English menus for customers, but when I travel with my parents, I need to translate all the items on the menu to them as they are not fluent in English and neither are they familier with western food terms. Luckily, I am fluent in English after years of studying and working overseas. Most Chinese travelers are not. Even so, even with my fluent English, I often get very confused over local food ingredients names and find it difficult to translate. Offering a few pictures along with the menu would be quite helpful. Even a separate menu with pictures of the best selling dishes would be a great start.
Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi.
There are an increasing number of independent Chinese travelers these days because there’s always a great travel concierge assistant called “the internet”! We rely on our mobile phones when we travel to free ourselves from those rushed guided tours that many have grown accustomed to associating Chinese tourists with. Since data roaming fees are also rather high for trips to a foreign country, the Wi-Fi at various venues becomes the one and only access to internet for many Chinese travelers. Wi-Fi coverage in Asia is fairly common. Young independent Chinese travelers have been visiting Hong Kong and Seoul for a while now and have grown accustomed to widely available Wi-Fi. Therefore, young Chinese travelers tend to assume that Internet is always within access when they travel overseas.
Many hotels and restaurants in Europe (and North America) don’t always have free Wi-Fi and frustratingly enough, the higher-end hotels are less likely to have free Wi-Fi. There have been many times when my friends and I decided on which hotels to stay purely based on their free Wi-Fi. Another tip. Having free Wi-Fi available to your Chinese customers keeps them in your store and hotel longer. The longer we stay somewhere, the more we buy. We also love showing off our travel experiences to our friends back in China via Chinese social media apps like Weibo and WeChat. Enable Wi-Fi and you enable us to share your brand with our friends back home.
We prefer Sprinter vans with family and friends instead of tour buses with strangers.
It has become clear to me that (almost) no one in my friend/family circles goes on guided Chinese tours anymore. Especially for trips to Europe. What my family usually does is hire a local driver for 10 hours a day in a 7-person sprinter van throughout the trip. It saves us the hassle of researching where to go and minimizes the chance of us getting lost while offering a much more flexible itinerary. It makes such a big difference to travel independently as opposed to getting woken up to get on a crowded bus at 8am with a bunch of strangers! It’s also a great way to learn the local culture from chatting with the driver. These days, there are many Chinese-speaking drivers in each of the European countries. They can be your interpreter too if you don’t speak the local language or English.
We like local cuisine and local experiences.
Granted, Chinese travelers often prefer Chinese food when they travel. However, I don’t think that applies as much to the younger generation of independent travelers. Many of my friends and I are foodies. We travel to eat. Exploring local cuisine is a huge part of exploring a new place to us. It’s something we can’t experience in China and gives us an introduction and better understanding of the local culture. Beyond food, many young Chinese independent travelers love trying out new local culture experiences. Yes, it’s true. We always shop when we travel. However, many of us are also seeking new experiences, activities, cultural events. Even an afternoon at a nice cafe people watching and dreaming of what it would be like to live there is itself a luxury for us.
Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of the independent Chinese traveler. We don’t travel in large tour buses following a guide and his flag so therefore we are a bit more difficult to point out. However, we are growing in number and also more likely to return time and time again over the next several years if you make us feel welcome.