International shoppers: British retail’s Christmas miracle?


The British high street is facing a crisis; the number of empty shops stands at a record high, with a vacancy rate of 10.3% (BRC). Footfall continues to fall as British shoppers shun the high street and shopping centres in favour of online shopping. This is compounded by Brexit uncertainty, which sees people buying only the essentials, and rising costs for retailers due to wages and business rates. 

But international shoppers are bringing festive cheer to the British high street. Last year, sales to international shoppers were worth 13.8% of UK textile, clothing and footwear store sales –  worth approximately £6.8 billion. On average, international shoppers spend four times more than domestic shoppers, with some retailers seeing up to 60% of their sales coming from non-domestic customers.

International payments company Planet predicts that this holiday season, sales to international shoppers will continue to outperform last year’s. In the first ten months of this year, sales to international shoppers have already grown by 6%, and this is before the usual Christmas spending spree.  Chinese and US shoppers in particular will flock to the UK. They’re most interested in buying apparel (23% of sales), watches and jewellery (10%), and bags and luggage (3%).

“The purchasing power of international shoppers is growing and provides a huge opportunity for retailers – particularly in major shopping areas. Customer experience is the key to tapping into this source of revenue and attracting these shoppers to brick-and-mortar stores,”commentedDavid Perrotta, UK country manager of Planet.

Retailers can capture a greater share of this international spend by providing customers with the best possible customer experience at multiple touchpoints on their shopper journey. In the digital age, customer experience, online and in-store, will be the differentiator.

Tourists are looking for experiences that complement the brands they visit. Brands will have to provide international shoppers with a full end-to-end experience: providing fun, engaging and memorable experiences to drive footfall.

It is also important that retailers keep in mind the cultural nuances of international shoppers. Planet data shows that cultural training of shop floor staff can lead to a 10-20% increase sales to international shoppers.  For example, asking customers if they would like to buy a gift for a friend or family member this Christmas in addition to their chosen items can drive sales. On average, three in ten shoppers will buy one if asked.

Businesses can further ensure they capture tourist spend by reducing friction for these consumers. This can include accepting payments in international currencies, accepting alternative payment methods (e.g. WeChat or Alipay), or having store staff that speak multiple languages.

In short, if retailers can provide great customer experience end-to-end, it will be a very merry Christmas for all.