Chinese travelers fuel tax-free shopping surge in Europe, Asia

    After four years, tax-free shopping is returning to pre-pandemic numbers, according to an update by tourism shopping tax refund company Global Blue.
    The Asia-Pacific region is in the midst of a particularly strong tax-free shopping recovery. Image: Shutterstock
      Published   in Retail

    What Happened

    After four years, tax-free shopping appears to be roaring back to pre-pandemic numbers, according to an update by tourism shopping tax refund company Global Blue on March 7.

    Global Blue’s latest figures show that the global recovery for tax-free shopping surged in February to 141% of its 2019 levels, a robust revival in international shopping.

    Charting tax-free shopping across Continental Europe and Asia-Pacific, Global Blue identifies China and Chinese outbound tourist-shoppers as playing a pivotal role in the sector’s post-pandemic recovery.

    Jing Daily

    The Asia-Pacific region, spearheaded by Japan and helped by Singapore’s new visa-free policy for Chinese travelers, is in the midst of a particularly strong recovery, with China's influence undeniable. In February, tax-free spending by mainland Chinese shoppers reached 98% of its 2019 level, indicating that outbound Chinese travelers are back on the international scene after several years of traveling (and shopping) closer to home.

    The Jing Take

    Looking at the year-on-year growth, mainland Chinese shoppers have led with a staggering 222% increase in tax-free shopping growth in Continental Europe and the aforementioned 350% growth in Asia-Pacific.

    These figures signify a strong recovery – and one very much welcome among retailers – but also a significant shift in consumption patterns, likely influenced by pent-up demand and a strong appetite for luxury goods and international travel experiences.

    Jing Daily

    Throughout APAC, February saw spending growth surge 120% compared to the previous year. Notably, mainland Chinese consumers spearheaded this increase with an impressive 350% jump in spending over February 2023, followed by shoppers from Northeast Asia with a 118% increase, and those from Hong Kong and Taiwan, who saw a 54% rise.

    Meanwhile in Continental Europe, February’s mainland Chinese shopper recovery declined slightly 71% of pre-pandemic levels. Global Blue notes that this looks worse than it is considering the comparison base of high 2019 Lunar New Year spending.

    The resurgence of tax-free shopping, particularly driven by mainland Chinese consumers, offers luxury brands and retailers a unique opportunity to reassess and realign their strategies. This includes focusing on personalized services, understanding regional preferences, and integrating digital solutions to enhance the shopping experience for the Chinese luxury consumer.

    Moreover, data suggests that as Chinese consumers increasingly engage in international shopping, there's a growing need for brands to create more tailored, culturally resonant experiences that cater to this demographic's specific interests and preferences, particularly as they continue to shape the global luxury market.

    The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

    Discover more
    Daily BriefAnalysis, news, and insights delivered to your inbox.