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UK high street "not geared up" for boom in Chinese tourism

Lauretta Roberts
20 January 2020

British high street retailers are not equipped to deal with a boom in Chinese tourism, with a majority not accepting the country’s most common payment methods.

Mystery shoppers found that they were not able to pay with Alipay or WeChat at four in five of the non-luxury retailers in some of London’s top tourist destinations.

The luxury retailers, more attuned to the needs of rich travellers, have adapted better, with 41% of them accepting both payment methods, and 21% taking Alipay alone.

About 90% of Chinese city dwellers use one of the two apps as their main payment methods, and even in the countryside around half of them use them regularly.

“The number one pastime of Chinese tourists when visiting the UK is shopping,” said Richard Morecroft, the co-founder of JGOO, which conducted the research. JGOO offers to connect businesses to WeChat and Alipay.

Chinese tourists are expected to spend up to £1 billion in the UK this year, according to the firm, an increase of 52%.

Its mystery shoppers visited 107 retail outlets in Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street and New Bond Street.

They also found that 29% of shops employed at least one Mandarin speaker. However more than half (56%) of the luxury shops were able to speak to tourists in Mandarin, the largest of the Chinese dialect groups.

Thirteen of the 107 retailers both accepted the payment methods and had Mandarin-speaking staff. They included Harrods, Selfridges and Watches of Switzerland.

Morecroft said that visitors could be put off. “Our research shows that even some of the UK’s leading retailers who are in the prime locations visited by Chinese tourists are not geared up to engage with them properly and could be costing them millions of pounds a year in lost sales,” he said.

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