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Chinese lust for luxuries could empty nation's purses

  • Source: Global Times
  • [08:40 February 18 2011]
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By Li Yajuan

Walking down Fifth Avenue, New York's famous shopping paradise, this Spring Festival, I wondered whether I was back in China. Almost all the shops were crowded with Chinese tourists. There were long lines in front of the Armani, Louis Vuitton and Gucci stores, the most popular luxury brands in China.

Luxury shopping is on top of Chinese tourists' to-do list in the US, as most of these big brands are hard to find back home. If you take tax and other markups into account, the savings are huge.

American retailers have definitely taken full advantage of the opportunities provided by the Chinese nouveau riche. More and more stores hire Putonghua-speaking sales staff. Some even accept UnionPay cards. High-end department stores such as Saks and Nieman Marcus put dragons and other Chinese symbols in their window decoration to attract Chinese tourists.

Woodbury Commons, one of the world's largest premium outlets, has a  shuttle bus to pick up Chinese tourists from Manhattan for one-day shopping tours.

Chinese consumers have not let the US luxury industry down. The international shopping website Global Blue reported that after becoming the leader in French luxury shopping in 2009, Chinese tourists are now the No.1 shoppers for luxury goods in the US.

As one New York Times article said, the Chinese are the new Japanese, in terms of their sheer numbers and their interest in buying everything in sight. But what happened to the Japanese tourists?

Japan's passion for luxury goods began in the 1970s, when the country's economy witnessed rapid growth. Japanese consumers finally recovered from the misery of World War II and started to enjoy the fruits of years of hard work. Naturally, they looked up to European products, which had better quality and design.

Eventually, this idea developed into an emotional and social attachment to European luxury products. European luxuries became a badge of social status and wealth in Japan. The Japanese middle class would save money for months then travel to Europe and the US for luxury shopping.

In the 1980s, there were "one-day shopping trips" from Japan to the US. The Japanese visitors took the overnight flight from Tokyo and arrived in New York in the late morning when the stores opened. The entire day's activity was nothing but shopping. They usually brought packed lunch boxes so that they could skip meals to save money and time for shopping.

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