A shopping trip in China’s capital would seem strangely incomplete without a stop at Taikoo Li, Swire’s mecca for trendsetting tourists in Beijing’s Sanlitun district. In nearly 10 years, the mall and the area surrounding it has gone through major transformation, but it’s the changes in the past six months that seem to be setting the tone for what Chinese consumers are demanding: accessible luxury, independent and local brands, and entertaining experiences. Across the street, the recently opened Topwin Center and Mercedes me as well as the incoming InterContinental hotel hope to meet the demands from the young, fashion-forward crowd from all over China that Taikoo Li has captured. Taikoo Li has been long setting a tone for what China’s major shopping malls can aspire to be—a self-labeled “hottest fashion destination and the coolest place to hang out.” Despite past security issues and safety concerns, the destination is far from the so-called ghost malls that have plagued some Chinese developers in the rise of e-commerce, and continues to attract droves of foot traffic across its vast art, lifestyle, and dining options.
Taikoo Li is divided into two distinct sections, North and South, partly separated by Swire’s The Opposite House boutique hotel. The two areas feature two distinct atmospheres and offerings. While the South side focuses more accessible luxury brands like Michael Kors and Kate Spate, in addition to fast-fashion brands like H&M and three floors of restaurants, the North side is home to big-name luxury brands and Chinese independent labels. However, those clearly defined lines are beginning to shift, with locally owned multi-brand stores like Artemis and Magmode opening in the South and more accessible luxury stores like Scotch and Soda in the North. Outside, walkways are used for pop-ups by new brands and launch events, like H&M’s eco-conscious collection debut. Two huge event spaces are reserved for fashion shows and gallery openings from both local and international brands and artists, ranging from a Porsche event to a Beijing fashion school graduation showcase.
Jing Daily contacted Taikoo Li’s General Manager Max Yu by email to find out more about how he’s adapted to shifting consumer demands in the era of shopping malls being “palaces of experience” and social hubs.
What is your strategy for competing with online retail and dealing with the downturn in luxury sales in China? How has Taikoo Li fared so far?
There are always two sides to things. Is e-commerce a competition for business? Objectively, yes. However, we’re glad that because of the online shopping possibilities, customers have a chance to judge what’s the best for them and choose what fits most comfortably.
We would like to take this stage as more of an opportunity to show customers and visitors multiple possibilities that a shopping experience could be, aside from a click and a knock on the door. Taikoo Li Sanlitun had been crafted as a “Community & Lifestyle Center.” Here, people are able to enjoy veritable social, shopping, catering, and lifestyle choices from hundreds of tasteful stores and restaurants through a real-life, more personable experience. For example, we’ve thrown various exciting events that have garnered plenty of recognition and appreciation from our customers and visitors, including our Line Friends Pop-Up, M&M’s at Taikoo Li Sanlitun, McDonald’s China 25th Anniversary Toy Exhibition, a Fashion Festival every spring, a Light Festival every fall, Sharing is Caring Christmas campaigns, and more. None of these can be experienced unless you come on site to live it.
The whole industry is going through a transition, but as a retailer, we should realize this also means an age of more rational consumption behavior has arrived, especially in terms of the luxury industry. There is also now the development of target customer groups. The recent import duty reform is bull news to the industry (mainland China-wide of course), and to be honest, it’s causing the customer to prefer to buy more domestically. Taikoo Li Sanlitun, of course, is benefiting from these factors.
How has your sales performance been this year?
Taikoo Li Sanlitun has been maintaining a healthy, steady growth since its opening, and we’ve been looking good in the past year and quarter, too.
What are some shopping mall trends you are following closely?
Taikoo Li Sanlitun is unique, not only because you can immediately experience a completely different low-rise, open-lane architecture style, but also for the sophisticated atmosphere it created for the city before everyone else. That also means we are always thinking ahead a step or two by spending quite a lot of time studying our customers and visitors.
Nowadays, what people want to get out of a mall is not about simply problem solving. When they are spending time in here, they are looking for a genuine experience—not line-assembled, but one with their own “trademark” on it.
With this in mind, Taikoo Li Sanlitun is going to care more about lifestyle choices by putting more emphasis on the health, athletic, and entertainment industries and by introducing more unique stores that are new to Beijing to continue to generate buzz and interest within the community.
Taikoo Li is one of the few malls in the city that always has an outdoor structure that encourages people to take photos. How has this helped your mall?
As the well-known “Fashion Destination” in town, Taikoo Li Sanlitun has always been a top choice for businesses to promote their brand via campaigns and events here, and outdoor installations are one of the ways of doing this. Our open-lane design naturally makes us able to benefit from large-scale outdoor structures. This is definitely a win-win for both the brand and Taikoo Li Sanlitun, maximizing co-branding benefits with solid traffic and sales numbers.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or changes in the next year?
We will continue renovating the facilities and optimizing the retail offerings throughout both the South and North. However, we are not just about “renewing,” but we’re actually completely upgrading. Here’s a spoiler: we’re going to put more quality F&B offerings and entertainment elements in the North complex that we’re quite confident our customers and visitors will love. We’re getting close to celebrating our 10th birthday, but Taikoo Li Sanlitun is still younger than ever.