Photos: Galeries Lafayette, beloved by Chinese
The Galeries Lafayette is one of sightseers’ favorite department store in Paris. In recent years, Chinese shoppers crowding in and out of the store have become a common sight. Even Chinese customers here started to complain every now and then, “There are just too many Chinese here!” (Photos by Zhang Jie)
The Galeries Lafayette is a department store founded in 1895 in Paris, France. Today, it is a notable tourist destination. Because of the reputation it enjoys and the brilliant transliteration adopted by Chinese – Lafayette as “Lao Fo Ye”, literally Old Buddha, a well-known endearing sobriquet for Cixi the Empress Dowager of China’s Qing Dynasty, the department store that houses thousands of high-fashion boutiques has been Chinese shoppers’ first choice. The picture, taken on December 12, 2011, shows a visitor from China photographing the brightly-lit department store at dusk.
As enthusiasm for travelling to France is constantly on the rise, Chinese visitors’ enormous purchasing power in the “Land of Luxury Goods” has become an attention grabber. Many travel agencies even start to organize special “Shopping Groups in France.” In response, Galeries Lafayette has established a service team of 30 people to cater to Chinese customers pouring in. The picture, taken on December 12, 2011, shows a tour group from China arrive at Galeries Lafayette.
According to the department store’s Chinese customer service, a Chinese tour group can be as small as five people and as large as 60 people. In dull season, about 30 groups come in per day. In high season, the number can reach 150. Due to the overwhelming traffic volume, the store has opened a special entrance for Chinese groups. The picture, taken on December 12, 2011, shows a group of Chinese visitors listen to their tour guide’s briefing about the store.
Tour guide also serves as a shop assistant to Chinese shoppers who only have half-baked knowledge about designer brands. “Which brand is good?” “Di Ao (Chinese transliteration for Dior).” “How to spell Di Ao in English?” “D-I-O-R.” “What else?” “Gu Qi (Gucci) is not bad too. ” “How to spell Gu Qi?” “G-U-C-C-I.” Because they each can get a commission of 10 percent on all sales generated by customers they bring in, they appear extremely helpful as well. The picture, taken on December 12, 2011, shows a Chinese tour guide giving directions to boutiques.
A survey conducted by Galeries Lafayette shows that Chinese consumers’ favorite items are, in descending order, designer watch, jewelry, leather goods, perfume, designer clothes. Besides, liquor and souvenir are also very popular. The department store has put all best-selling goods on the ground floor and hired Chinese-speaking shop staff. The picture, taken on December 12, 2011, shows Chinese customers browsing designer watches.
Some luxury brands, because of their global recognition, draw crowds of Chinese consumers with exceptional ease. The picture, taken on November 14, 2011, shows Chinese customers jostle their way to the front of a boutique of a luxury brand.
Sometimes, lines form in front of certain brands as a result of a large volume of traffic. At peak times, wait time in line can be more than half an hour. The picture, taken on November 14, 2011, shows Chinese customers lining in front of a fashion boutique.
Some It Bags become such easy targets of prodigious Chinese shoppers that retailers have to slap a cap on the number of items each customer can take home. The picture, taken on November 21, 2011, shows a Chinese customer inquires of a shop assistant about the product he has saved in his laptop.
In recent years, Chinese shoppers crowding in and out of the store have become a common sight. Many Chinese visitors say that it is is as if they were back in China. The picture, taken on November 21, 2011, shows Chinese customers rest at a corner of the store.
Meanwhile, some bad habits often seen in China have been brought to Galeries Lafayette. The picture, taken on January 3, 2012, shows that some stickers on a welcome sign at the special entrance for Chinese were torn off.
A Chinese customer talks loudly over the phone inside the store. (Date: December 9, 2011)
At the tax refund and cash withdrawal desk, the mouth of a guardian lion statue is stuffed with trash. (Date: January 3, 2012)
The flood of Chinese customers have way outstripped the store’s reception capacity. The rest areas inside the store are often packed with people. The picture, taken on November 21, 2011, shows a group of Chinese customers sit on the ground while taking a rest.
However, the most crowded place must be the final stop of their shopping – tax refund desk. Customers who have spent over 175.01 euro on a single day can have immediate cash refunds on the value-added tax here. The picture, taken on January 28, 2012, shows long lines forming in front of the tax-refund desk.
Galeries Lafayette opens from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. It did happen when the store had to extend hours for Chinese tour groups. The picture, taken on January 28, 2012, shows a group of Chinese visitors who finished their shopping sit on the stairs, visibly exhausted.
The Japan desk is located on the lower level. Despite that Japan desk is also shared by visitors of other European and American countries, it still looks very quiet and empty. From June, 2012, the China desk will keep expanding, whereas service departments for other countries will be relocated. Insiders say that Galeries Lafayette is actually concerned that the steady increase in the number of Chinese shoppers may make shopping experiences of other foreign visitors stressful.
Zhou Mi, the Chinese-speaking assistant for Chloé, says that 80 percent of customers she receives are Chinese, and their budget is very impressive. However, their manners have much room for improvement. Some talk too loud, and they don’t put bags back on racks after they try it. At the same time, she says, bad manners is not the only reason why Chinese customers have a negative image; the traffic volume is too large for Galeries Lafayette to keep up with.
Nowadays, nearly half of Galeries Lafayette’s sales revenue comes from Asian customers. Chinese take the lead. Faced with the ever-growing number of Chinese consumers, the department store and its boutique has rolled out marketing strategies tailored to them. The picture, taken on December 13, 2011, shows a wristwatch boutique display an ad poster featuring Chen Daoming, a Chinese actor and a household name in China.
Lured by the department store’s foot traffic, retailers and stores nearby have also started to zero in on Chinese visitors. The picture, taken on January 4, 2012, shows a store putting up signs with hand-written Chinese characters. (Top: “Foie Gras”; Middle: “Chocolate, Yum”; Bottom left: “Foie Gras”.)
A sign put up by a retailer says “Tax-free shopping. Chinese translators inside.” (Date: January 4, 2012)
Each year prior to Chinese Lunar New Year, Galeries Lafeyette decorates its stores with a Chinoiserie motif. During the Year of Dragon, it hands out free gifts and special promotions to Chinese customers. The picture, taken on January 28, 2012, shows an entrance with Chinese-style décor swarming with customers.
Chinese people always on the lookout for bargains also brings business to street vendors near the department store. Many of them can make hundreds of euros from touting cheaply made souvenirs. The picture, taken on January 28, 2012, shows a vendor from China haggling with a Chinese couple over the price of a souvenir.
Chinese people have flexed their strong economic muscles at Galeries Lafayette. But they did not build up an image comparable to their economic strength, and they also have to endure the crowdedness and wait time brought by “too many Chinese”. Some people say, “They are always hauled by a bus to a back entrance specially opened for Chinese, and get back to the same bus through the same entrance after they finish shopping and leave. They have left behind euros and taken with them luxury brands and jewelry enough to brag about, while forgetting to take with them the beauty of Paris.”