On fleeting Hong Kong trips, Chinese make frugal fashionable

Sun May 19, 2013 10:26pm EDT
 
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By Donny Kwok and Lavinia Mo

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Armed with empty suitcases and same-day return tickets, an army of mainland Chinese is descending on suburban outlet shopping malls and international fashion chains in Hong Kong, turning cheap into the new chic as luxury falls out of favor.

Wealthy Chinese used to stop over in Hong Kong for a few days to pick up a Louis Vuitton bag or a wristwatch for up to 40 percent less than in Beijing or Shanghai.

These well-heeled tourists have now been overtaken by bargain-hunters that stay for a few hours, spend more at shops like Inditex SA's Zara and malls such as Citygate Outlets, turning Hong Kong into a must-be location for retailers who are braving some of the world's most expensive commercial rents.

"There are more mainland consumers than locals," said Tsz Chung, a salesman at a Nike Inc store in Citygate, located in the satellite town of Tung Chung near the airport. "Typically, mainland consumers look for cheap goods."

Foreign retailers treat Hong Kong as a gateway to China, which is poised to become the world's biggest consumer market in three years, and how mainland tourists shop is big business. Sluggish sales growth in Europe and the United States also makes China, with its rapidly expanding middle class and rising incomes, especially attractive.

Chinese nationals were the largest single group of tourists to Hong Kong last year. Of the 35 million who visited, 20 million came and left the same day, an increase of more than a third on 2011, according to tourism bureau data.

Many short-term visitors come by shuttle bus or train from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. They often head straight to Citygate, where more than 80 international brands including Levi's jeans, Coach Inc, Polo Ralph Lauren and Burberry are offered at steep discounts.

"It's cheaper here and there's a wide range of options," said Chen Yunlong, a 29-year-old tourist from the border town of Shenzhen as he strolled through the mall on a recent Saturday.   Continued...

 
Shoppers walk inside flagship store of Japanese fashion house Uniqlo at Hong Kong's Causeway Bay shopping district May 9, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip