Survey Of Melbourne Retailers During Chinese New Year 2016

A trip to The Emporium in Melbourne during Chinese New Year led to a mini-survey on what attracts Chinese shoppers into a retail outlet and what doesn't.  The spreadsheet with the data collected is here.

The survey yielded some interesting insights:

  1. Chinese people like to congregate together.  By far the biggest factor in getting Chinese to enter a store was the presence of other Chinese people - 56.7% of the stores that already had Chinese people in them when we started counting had more enter before we could finish the count.
  2. Brand matters.  Chinese consumers are very brand sensitive, both in terms of recognisability and image.  Stores with strong brand power were 60% more likely to attract Chinese customers than those with poor positioning. 
  3. Signs help.  The presence of a Chinese language sign (i.e. "Happy Year Of The Monkey" in Chinese) or a UnionPay sticker (the most widely used credit card in China) increased the chances of Chinese buyers entering the store by 25.1%.  The reason for this is that signs indicate that the retailer has some awareness of and interest in the needs of Chinese customers, and that they will welcome Chinese people into the store.  While this consideration may seem trivial (what shop owner would be so xenophobic as to make customers with money to spend feel uncomfortable), it's actually quite significant, especially in light of the Chinese cultural imperative around face.  Signals that the store employees won't embarrass or intimidate them are greatly appreciated.
  4. Sales are attractive.  Chinese people love sales and discounts.  Our survey indicated that they are 24.2% more likely to enter a store with discounted items on display than one without items on sale.
  5. Asian assistants are a plus.  As with signs, many Chinese shoppers find an Asian shop assistant a good signal that they will be welcomed into the store and treated in a comfortable way.  The shop assistants themselves confirmed this, saying that even if they spoke no Mandarin (the majority of assistants interviewed did not), Chinese people assumed that they would at least have greater cultural fluency, and better understand the shoppers' expectations.
  6. WeChat works.  WeChat is the preferred social networking platform in China, and informs the decisions of Chinese consumers on topics from food safety to fashion tips.  Retail brands with an official WeChat account were 18.0% more likely to see Chinese customers coming through their door than those without.

The overall conclusion we drew from the survey is that Chinese shoppers want quality, and they want to feel comfortable about their shopping experience.  

While quality is a long term issue that's usually addressed by the retailers merchandise and sourcing departments, making Chinese shoppers feel comfortable and welcome can be dealt with immediately and in the store.  We saw a powerful negative example of this while visiting a large department store in Melbourne and watching the interaction between Chinese shoppers and the staff in the cosmetics department (Chinese women buy significantly more cosmetics than the average Australian).  

One of the cosmetics brands employed staffers who had an aggressively industrial look - most were heavily tattooed, with dramatic hair coloration and eye makeup.  More importantly, these staffers all had quite severe looks on their faces - none were smiling and all were holding unbroken eye contact with anyone who looked their way.  While this mode of presentation has a logic and appeal to a certain demographic in Australia, for Chinese shoppers the whole situation was EXTREMELY intimidating.  You could actually see a meter-wide exclusion zone around each attendant, where no Chinese shopper dared to go.  This is because they felt uncomfortable and worried that even approaching these shop assistants would result in them being embarrassed.