Offline is alive and well: Store shopping drives online innovations

The surging growth of e-commerce around the world has been a prevalent topic in retailing, suggesting that physical stores are struggling to compete with online platforms. However, in reality, shopping mall space is expanding in most markets, airport hubs are increasing their retailing space and more travellers go to other countries to shop than ever before. As a result, online services are being used to help shoppers find their perfect physical shopping destination.

When travelling to foreign destinations, consumers from emerging economies, especially China, Brazil and Russia, are keen to benefit from better professional sales services and product knowledge. According to the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, 27% of Chinese tourists abroad spend more on shopping than on anything else. A spring 2014 study from tourist VAT refund company, Global Blue, revealed that 82% of Chinese tourists said that shopping was a priority for them while traveling.One 28-year-old Shanghai resident, on a 10-day shopping trip to Europe with her friend, told the New York Times that they had mapped out a strategy. In Paris they planned to visit the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower but top of their list were Chanel and Prada.

In Vietnam, the trend seeing affluent consumers buying cheaper portable luxury goods while travelling abroad to avoid tariffs has its own moniker: “hang xach tay”. For the USA, Sao Paulo is its busiest consulate worldwide, as Brazilians increasingly head north to shop.

More travelling consumers are buying before they even step on a plane. In its global 2014 Traveler Experience Survey report, consumer transaction technologies company, NCR Corporation, stresses that airports now derive up to half of their revenue from non-aero retail and concessions. In line with the trend for authentic-style holidays, consumers are keen on shopping tours offered to help transform them into savvier shoppers once at their holiday destination. Self-guided tours firm, Shop NYC Tours, for instance, ranks its “Fashionista Fave tour and “Recessionista tour” as favourites.

Indicating the importance of shopping to consumers, travel website, Booking.com, is currently inviting users to rank destinations in terms of shopping amenities in a “Where the world shops” feature, sharing these tips with site users in a bid to prompt bookings.

Travellers, especially the young and tech-savvy, are researching their purchasing plans online, and comparing prices, well before they leave home. Popular mobile messaging service Weixin (with over 600 million users in China), known outside China as WeChat, lets them share their foreign shopping experiences in real time, check prices and send photos of purchases, or even take orders on behalf of friends back home. According to Jing Daily, which reports on luxury consumer trends in China, virtually every overseas Chinese tourist has a WeChat account.

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