USA. DFS Group presented some intriguing insights into the Asian and in particular the Chinese travelling shopper of today and tomorrow, at the recent San Francisco Travel Tourism & Economic Forum.

“Chinese travellers continue to be the driving force in travel and retail, with only 10% of the total Chinese population owning a passport and yet accounting for around 32% of global spending in luxury,” said DFS Group Executive Vice President Strategy and Business Development Jim Beighley.

Jim Beighley: “Chinese travellers continue to be the driving force in travel and retail”

He codified these consumers into three broad groups: ‘First Timers’ who tend to travel in groups and who are expected to account for up to 19% of Chinese travellers by 2020, ‘luxury-loving Aficionados’ who seek individuality and are expected to make up 20% of all Chinese travellers by 2020, and experiential, wellbeing-focused Millennials’who will account for 50% of all Chinese travellers by 2020.

Beighley also explained how China’s rapid adoption of a digital, cash-free economy has created a nation of highly value-conscious consumers who engage in extensive research, evaluation and comparison before they make a decision to travel or shop.

In response, DFS has embraced technologies that are native to these shoppers such as WeChat and Alipay. DFS said that this enabled it to deliver “a seamless customer experience” that starts before the traveller begins their journey and ends long after their in-store visit. Many of these new technologies have been launched for the first time in a USA airport at DFS, San Francisco International.

Mike Osorio: San Francisco Airport is a key testing ground for new technology targeting the travelling consumer

“As America remains a popular destination with Chinese travellers, and with more than two-thirds of all arrivals into San Francisco visiting the Bay Area, our stores at San Francisco International Airport are an ideal environment to test new ways to attract and engage this segment of consumers,” said DFS Group Region President Americas, Pacific Islands and Japan Mike Osorio.

WeChat’s Mini Program, which DFS launched earlier this month, lets customers review products across multiple categories, and then pre-order and pay for their purchases using WeChat Pay for pick-up at the airport.

“The personalisation of the Mini Program, which can be tailored for instance to feature renowned Napa Valley wines, is especially popular with the growing segment of ‘free and independent’ travellers who prefer a more bespoke and individual experience to group travel,” said Osorio. Owned and developed by Tencent, WeChat (also known as Weixin in China) is one of the most popular messaging apps in Asia, especially in China, with an aggregate monthly active user base of 963 million as of June 2017.

DFS was also the first offline retailer in California to provide Alipay’s mobile payment option to its customers at San Francisco International Airport.

The travel retailer says that its strong partnerships with California’s tourism bodies have been critical to the success of these launches. “Thanks to our collaborative relationships with organisations such as SF Travel, LATCB, Visit California and Brand USA, all of whom value creativity, we are able to constantly innovate to meet the desires of all of our customer segments and find new ways to delight them throughout their journey,” said Osorio.

*As reported, San Francisco Airport recently tendered its duty free & luxury goods business, currently managed by DFS Group. Bids closed on 15 September for the 14-year contract. Long-time incumbent DFS is certain to face strong competition for one of its key North American concessions.