The UK is a brand bazaar with overseas visitors coming here in huge numbers to take advantage of tax-free shopping opportunities and buy goods from the likes of Burberry and Barbour, which even at full price are typically 30 per cent cheaper than back home.
VisitBritain expects to see continued strong growth from emerging markets, particularly Malaysia, Russia, China and the UAE. It forecasts an increase of nearly two per cent in international visitor numbers, resulting in record-breaking spend of around £21.5 billion, representing growth of 4.2 per cent.
Huge spikes in demand during China’s Golden Week and Eid al-Fitr after the end of Ramadan are providing new opportunities for brands that are geared up to provide the international consumer with a first-class experience in store and online.
Indeed, WorldPay saw an increase of 20 per cent in card payments by Chinese visitors in last October's Golden Week. The opening weekend of this February’s Spring Festival has seen an increase of over 50 per cent in payments processed by WorldPay, versus the same weekend in 2013.
So to capitalise on this opportunity, brand marketers must up their game – planning campaigns well in advance and using local social media to attract visitors.
Marketing added-value services such as Dynamic Currency Conversion (which allows shoppers to pay in their local currency at the point of sale) can pay dividends when overseas visitors are planning their shopping trips. And simple things such as letting Chinese shoppers pay using the card they want to, like China UnionPay, can make a huge difference to the whole shopping experience.
It is easy to think about tourists as a one-shot opportunity, assuming they buy once and then don’t return. But retailers and brand owners should treat them exactly the same as domestic consumers, by trying to establish a digital relationship, and making special offers based on sales history and personal insights.
The shopping journey starts before a consumer has even entered the store, and shopping time is often influenced by the brands advertising in their domestic market.
An international consumer’s interest and desire to buy is no longer triggered just in-store, so engage online, via PCs, tablets and smartphones, and through social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Chinese consumers use social media extensively to research the products they wish to purchase, especially luxury and designer items. To make the most of their revenue potential, it’s vital to understand what Chinese shoppers are saying before, during and after they visit London and other competing destinations.
While a number of Western micro-blogging sites such as Twitter are unavailable in China, native versions like Weibo and RenRen are extremely popular and carry a lot of weight.
Targeting that starts online can now follow the consumer and draw them into the store, using location-based technology. A brand can detect when a consumer is near a store and email or text promotions to them, using previously captured contact details.
This also allows brands to employ VIP services, such as taxis to and from the hotel or airport, or service from multilingual employees in-store.
Dave Hobday is managing director of WorldPay