Affluent Chinese tourists are well-known for their ability to sniff out good bargains while traveling. When they travel to foreign countries, some of their favorite destinations include outlet malls in suburban areas that offer discounted luxury goods.
While U.S. cities like Philadelphia have improved their marketing campaigns in China to bring in the tourists, Chicago has shown its prowess in attracting the luxury shopping crowd. Aided by direct flights from Beijing and Shanghai, Chicago has a lot to offer Chinese travelers, including the luxury goods that so many seek, and it’s one of the top 10 favorite U.S. destinations. The city expects to welcome about 400,000 Chinese tourists this year, according to Choose Chicago.
In recent years, the global outlet mall industry has aggressively sought to grab a slice of this lucrative Chinese shopping segment. Macerich’s Fashion Outlets of Chicago is home to a group of world-class luxury brands like Prada, Gucci, Tory Burch, Moncler, and Michael Kors—all of which are sought-after brands for Chinese luxury consumers.
With a mix of strategies involving social media outreach and experiential marketing through customer service, the Fashion Outlets of Chicago showcases many certifiable methods malls should use to court Chinese luxury shoppers during their visits to the States. So what exactly can other malls learn?
Get on Chinese travelers’ itinerary first
The planning for Chinese shopping junkets begins long before consumers leave China. That’s why, for outlet malls, it’s an absolute must to build a reputation within China and get on the radar of Chinese consumers while they’re planning their itineraries. Because of this reality, Fashion Outlets of Chicago chose to develop a comprehensive digital and social media outreach strategy. The company maintains active Weibo and WeChat accounts so it can regularly release sales and product information while driving awareness to digital-savvy Chinese consumers. It uses WeChat, specifically, to reach the local Chinese communities, keeping them continually informed about what’s available at the shopping center.
Collaborate with key players
Fashion Outlets of Chicago also makes sure to work with their large, local tourism publications and tourism boards to further promote themselves on those social media channels. For example, the Chicago Tourism Bureau’s official account on Weibo—with over 546,000 followers—posts about the Fashion Outlet and their sales offerings regularly.
Meanwhile, the outlet has worked closely with a marketing agency specifically to target Chinese visitors by connecting to local colleges, tour guides, and various other stakeholders. A great example of this is the Fashion Outlets of Chicago’s strategic partnership with Chicago-area universities, which welcomes new Chinese students by offering them welcome packets and access to shopping shuttles between their universities and the shopping center.
Offer a unique and culturally-engaging shopping experience
The mall provides Chinese travelers with an especially artful shopping environment—one that differentiates itself from rival outlet stores. Since 2013, the Fashion Outlets of Chicago has unveiled a collection of curated, site-specific artworks throughout the shopping center to create a memorable shopping environment for tourists. Some featured art pieces include Daniel Arsham’s falling figure relief situated within the car park and Jen Stark’s psychedelic mural which delights visitors as they enter and exit the space.
In 2016, Fashion Outlets of Chicago decided to further its art initiatives by launching an art program that allows visitors to access and enjoy contemporary artworks on display by both established emerging artists. The suitable theme of this program is: “Where art meets fashion.”
Targeting the Chinese luxury traveler demographic with contemporary art is smart because those consumers have become much more attuned to the art of living artists recently, and they’re generally excited by retailers that offer them unique and immersive experiences.
Make Chinese travelers feel at home
The last step is to provide world-class service to Chinese travelers and make their shopping experience as comfortable as possible. Fashion Outlets of Chicago achieves this by offering in-store signage in Mandarin and by providing in-store Mandarin translation services. At the center’s Concierge Services, Chinese consumers with valid passports can receive a free seven-day trial of the mall’s savings pass (which offers up to $800 in savings). On some Chinese holidays, such as the Chinese Lunar New Year, the mall hosts performances, activities, and games for Chinese travelers and gives away red envelopes—a New Year’s tradition that spreads good luck.