On an icy weekday afternoon in Hackney, a part of east London not on most tourists’ itinerary, Burberry’s discount outlet store is bustling with tourists from China. There is much buzz around the footwear department, and shoppers are checking out ponyskin handbags at £649 – down from £1,295 – and trench coats discounted to around £900 from nearly £1,300.
As the year of the monkey gives way to the year of the rooster on Saturday, Britain’s retail industry is hoping for more visitors from the world’s second-largest economy. Flight bookings from China to the UK are up 88% on 2016 for the Chinese New Year holiday period, which runs from 18 January to 1 February, according to market research firm ForwardKeys.
Wen Ying, one browser at the Burberry outlet, cites the low pound: “Super brands are cheaper here than in our country because of the value of the pound and because of taxes. The local British brands are very attractive because of the high quality.” While they haven’t bought any Burberry goods yet, she reckons the Loake loafers her partner bought earlier are 30% cheaper than at home.
At a nearby outlet centre, with discount designer goods from Matches, UGG, Anya Hindmarch and Pringle of Scotland, nearly every shop has a Mandarin-speaking assistant and some stores say that up to 70% of their shoppers are visiting from China. Harvey Nichols, the upmarket department store on the other side of London, said that it had Cantonese and Mandarin-speaking staff on hand at its tills to accept China Union Pay, a popular Chinese payment service.