The rise of the mainland Chinese tourist-shopper has been keenly felt across major department stores and boutiques throughout Europe over the past decade, with the demographic accounting for around one-fifth of all revenue at Galeries Lafayette in Paris and spending millions in London, Milan, Berlin, and — increasingly —destinations like Madrid. But after years of red-hot growth in overseas spending, the last couple of years have seen Chinese tourist-shoppers spend less on shopping, with travelers increasing their sightseeing and food and beverage budgets.
With this shift, some European retailers have worked harder to encourage spending via not only specialized discounts or loyalty programs — or by jetting in bloggers and influencers — but also by offering easier payment options. Following the lead of the Galeries Lafayette’s Haussmann and BHV Marais stores in Paris, recently Spain’s El Corte Inglés department stores rolled out WeChat Pay to all of its payment systems and terminals to better tap the cashless payment trend that has taken hold in China in recent years.
The recent rollout allows WeChat Pay’s estimated 800 million users to purchase using their mobile phones at any point of sale at the nearly 100 El Corte Inglés locations throughout the Iberian Peninsula. Cashers scan a QR code in the user’s WeChat app, which is linked to the user’s credit or debit card, to complete purchase — much in the same way users now use WeChat to purchase everything from lunch to houses in China.
WeChat has made Europe a key priority for its WeChat Pay feature over the past two years, looking to aggressively recruit European retailers to offer the service. The efforts are apparently paying off, with the number of merchants offering WeChat Pay in the continent increasing 350 percent year-over-year in the first four months of this year.
This move is the latest by El Corte Inglés to better tap the China market and compete with its UK or French luxury retail rivals. The chain’s Castellana location is already one of the ten most-visited stores in Europe by Chinese tourists, and as of last year, the company received an estimated 150,000 Chinese shoppers annually. (A figure that will continue to grow along with the number of direct flights between Spain and mainland China.)
As Javier Fernández Andrino, Director of International Marketing & Luxury Strategy at El Corte Inglés, recently told Jing Daily, the company has spent years working on increasing brand awareness in China and catering to Chinese shoppers. The chain offers a 10% discount for Chinese passport holders, as well as a simplified in-store tax-free process, personal shoppers, and hands-free shopping.
Using a toolkit that includes in-store activations and social media outreach, as well as collaborations with Chinese travel and fashion influencers, and accepting a range of Chinese forms of payment, El Corte Inglés has been quick to spot the opportunity that Chinese tourist-shoppers present, while remaining mindful of their responsibility not to alienate shoppers from other key domestic and international markets — which can be a tricky path to tread.