Best foot forward
June 22, 2005
The Economist reports (subscription required) that what Chinese visitors to the UK want most of all...is to go to factory outlets. And the first choice of of 2,000 door-to-door salespeople from Amway is...Clarks shoes:
The trip took 700 of them to Bicester Village, a collection of designer-outlet stores near Oxford. Though many of the most expensive fashion brands have shops at Bicester, the only place where it was difficult to get through the door was Clarks, makers of frumpy but sensible shoes for British adults and schoolchildren. Some of the shoppers were filling suitcases with the shoes. During a previous Amway visit, the store had to hire security guards to restrict entry to the store. Why the crush?
Oddly, Clarks shoes are apparently seen as luxury items in China. The company reckons that the brand, which has been around since 1825, may be helped by its lingering colonial associations. Its presence in Hong Kong when the Chinese market was opening up may also have allowed it to get its products into smart department stores before the competition: although many of the shoes are made in Guangdong, they are pricier there than in Bicester. Evidently much planning had gone into the shopping expedition: some shoppers brought pieces of string cut to the length of a friend's shoe to get the size right, others brought cardboard cut-outs of a child's foot.
This is not altogether surprising. If you read Chinese language newspapers or magazines in Hong Kong they often mention factory outlets in the UK. Clarks shoes are definitely cheaper in the UK than here, and presumably the factory outlets have the lowest prices.
I remember when I first came to Hong Kong being surprised to find that another famous British name - Marks & Spencer - also had a distinctly upmarket image in Hong Kong, with prices to match. Then they reorganized and restructured, and these days their prices here are more reasonable. I believe that Clarks are in the process of doing something similar (based on two newspapers articles I read recently), so perhaps there won't be any need to travel to the UK to buy their shoes at reasonable prices.
The Economist also says some interesting news:
At the moment, Chinese visitors can travel to Britain only on business or student visas. But from the end of July, they will be allowed to visit Britain as tourists, thanks to an agreement signed by the British and Chinese governments earlier this year.
It's interesting (to me) because if the British government is making it easier for Chinese citizens to visit the UK, one can hope that the Chinese government will make it easier (and cheaper) for Brits to get visas for China.
Its not just Chinese. My (Japanese) S.O. dragged me to an outlet mall when we visited the states this year. Had to waste over 4 hours there while she literally went through EVERY store. ARGGGHH!
Posted by: Skippy-san | July 05, 2005 at 04:14 PM