In the Press – Bicester Village and Chinese Tourism

I made a few comments on the article “The village that took over the world” – Gentleman’s Journal on how and why Bicester shopping village attracts so many Chinese tourists.



Approximately, 130 Chinese people made overseas trips in 2018, with only 120 million Chinese citizens holding passports (about 8.7 per cent of the population) in 2016.

In 260,000 Chinese tourists spent £513 million pounds in the UK, with numbers expected to rise due to the depreciating Pound-Yuan exchange rate. Numbers rose to 337,000 in 2017, with visitor spending up by 35 percent.

2016 – Chinese visitors to the UK – 260,000 Chinese tourists spent £513 million

2017 – Chinese visitors to the UK – 337,000 Chinese tourists spent £694 million

Studies still indicate that shopping remains their top travel motivator despite an increase in Chinese tourists travelling independently of packages that often include shopping in their itineraries. Given that they are the highest-spending group of outbound travellers in the world, countries and retailers are right to target Chinese outbound tourists.  According to VisitBritain, on average, Chinese tourists in the UK spend over £2100 per visit, excluding spend on accommodations. This is more than three times the market average.

Why do they include shopping as an activity? Taxes on imported luxury goods in China are extremely high, and there are customer worries that luxury goods sold in china may be counterfeit.  Branded items are purchased for gift-giving, given gifting is ingrained in Chinese culture, and is closely associated with status and prestige. They are also price conscious.

While Bicester’s success has been facilitated by their location (close to London, and good transport links), Value Retail Plc has done an incredible job. They have a WeChat site in Simplified Chinese to accommodate questions for those in China researching their trip and a Chinese smart-phone app, which enables users to explore the Village before arrival. They hire and train Mandarin speaking staff as part of a personal shopping team. They have Chinese signage and facilitate easy payment for Chinese tourists. Shops offer payment by Union Pay (Chinese credit/debit cards), Alipay (the mobile payment facility from Alibaba) and the WeChat pay system.  Given those visiting the UK are more likely than average to be making their first visit, Mandarin speaking staff, Mandarin signage and payment systems offer reassurance.  You can also claim back 20% VAT available to non-EU visitors at the village rather than queuing at the airport.

Bicester Village offers something for different types of Chinese tourist. The UNWTO break down Chinese tourists into groups: the “traditionalists,” the “wenyi youth tribe,” the “hedonists,” the “Connoisseurs,” and the “Experience-centre” tribe. Each likes shopping for different reasons. While traditionalist travellers mainly care about the brand, the Wenyi tribe acquire objects that tell a story. Traditionalists make up the largest segment, and are motivated by brands, and recognition.  The wenyi tribe might combine a trip to Bicester Village with a trip to Oxford for example, while the hedonists combine shopping, with eating, and having fun. I believe Bicester Village has evolved to recognise these different needs and wants.


Is Bicester Village the antidote to the death of high street shopping?

Bicester Village is a destination, but also an attraction, with shopping part of the experience. Unlike many UK towns and cities, it is safe, clean and graffiti free. It is never dull, never dark, empty or dull.  It has Chinese food, and is visually appealing.  Pictures of the village are uploaded by visitors to the Chinese twitter, Weibo, regularly.

Regions need to market themselves to those planning outbound travel in China. Greater Manchester has seen an increase in the number of Chinese visitors because of better air links and better marketing. However, it is difficult for town or even city centres to compete with Bicester’s retail offering.

Even the biggest retail stores can’t afford Chinese language staff, Chinese signage or fully appreciate cultural differences. Whether it’s lack of Chinese language information and material, bad Chinese food or the inability to use Chinese payment systems, there are major obstacles. Unlike Bicester Village, in many retail stores in the UK, you have to pay to use toilets and shops close early. Staff are not trained to be service oriented to overseas tourists, and there is no technology use to support the tourist retail experience.   For those thinking about Chinese tourist potential, why not start with a existing market: Chinese students. Retail outlets close to the nation’s universities, could for example target students, who are key opinion leaders for their friends and family back home.

Retail outlets have to reinvent themselves, for just for tourists, but for everyday shoppers. Retail needs to become more experiential. This demands both a physical and digital reinvention.  Bicester Village and it’s like haven’t led to the death of retail shopping in high streets. It shows that shopping should not be work, but should be a fun, memorable experience. Just like Bicester village, you focus on what shoppers want.  Both physically and online, it  reflects the shoppers they host. The high street retailer also need to designs their stores to reflect the communities they are in and offer events and experiences are more effective in creating connections to their particular local communities.

One threat however, is the China-American trade war; this has led to a yuan-devaluation. This could damage Chinese tourism growth to Britain.