Dubai Duty Free: speaking the language of Chinese consumers

Despite representing 4 per cent of traffic at Dubai International Airport, Chinese air passengers account for an impressive 12 per cent of sales, translating to around US$100m worth of spend at Dubai Duty Free based on 2015 figures. With engagement with Chinese passengers a vital touchstone of Dubai Duty Free’s strategy, and reflected in everything from recruitment to brands stocked, Salah Tahlak, Senior Vice-President of Corporate Communications, explains how the group is ramping up staff, products and partnerships to best appeal to the Chinese traveller

How many Chinese passengers pass through Dubai International Airport?

Up to the end of September 2016, a total of 2.45m Chinese passengers have passed through DXB. The majority of these are from Hong Kong, Kunming, Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou.

In what ways is Dubai Duty Free building consumer knowledge around those passengers to effectively engage with them through targeted promotions?

We are engaging with Chinese travellers on many levels, both before they travel and while they are here. For example for the past two years we have run marketing promotions with Union Pay to communicate special offer for their card holders, many of whom are international travellers.

Once in Dubai Duty Free, we communicate more directly with Chinese passengers through the following strategies. Firstly, we have assigned Chinese staff – up from just 33 in 2006 to the current number of 591 – in almost all our stores to avoid a language barrier and make our Chinese customers feel at ease. We highlight our ‘mega promotions’ in the monthly DDF flyer in Chinese, and also theme our shops during special events such as Chinese New Year. Lastly, we have introduced popular Chinese products – especially around New Year festivities – from different categories such as fashion, food, liquor, and tobacco.

'We have assigned Chinese staff in almost all our stores to avoid a language barrier and make our Chinese customers feel at ease'

Salah Tahlak, Senior Vice-President of Corporate Communications, Dubai Duty Free

What types of promotions and activations are proving to be most effective?

A good example would be the Chinese New Year in 2016. To celebrate, Dubai Duty Free rolled out a Chinese New Year themed-concept with plenty of attractive promotions across all Concourses in Dubai International Airport. The promotion was a celebration offering a special 20 per cent discount on the top 25 best-selling products from 2-11 February for Chinese consumers. We saw a significant increase of 14 per cent in sales value as compared to the same period year-on-year.

Traditional red and gold colours that signify good fortune and joy and DDF Chinese Sales Assistants dressed in traditional costume could be found in the promotional areas, and we also produced a special New Year packaging (paper, ribbons and boxes) to ensure high-end exclusivity.

What trends are you registering in terms of Chinese passenger spend and purchasing patterns?

Based on boarding pass analysis in July 2016, the top five best-selling categories among Chinese shoppers are cosmetics, watches, cigarettes, liquor and perfumes.

Behaviourally, there are some similarities between Chinese customers. They tend to look for items that are limited-edition or exclusive to duty free, and have a penchant for buying high-end watches of brands such as Rolex, Omega or Cartier. In the jewellery departments, customers will buy assorted gold coins and bars, loose diamonds, or precious jewellery from brands such as Tiffany and Bulgari.

The majority of Chinese passengers travel in groups and like to buy luxury products from well-known brands including Salvatorre Ferragamo, Burberry, Coach, Michael Kors and Swarovski crystal. Their favourite skincare products are Crème de la Mer moisturisers, Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Serum and Lancôme Gene fique. For perfume, they prefer the Chanel and Dior fragrances.

Are you able to tell us about other plans for future engagement with China?

Dubai Duty Free is already engaged with various Chinese suppliers over the years and with the signing of MoU with CTRIP - the Chinese online travel agency with 141 million active members - we aim to strengthen our business relationship, which will be beneficial to both parties. We also have an ongoing discussion with Chinese companies such as Union Pay, Baidu and others. To cater to the increasing traffic of Chinese travellers at DXB, Dubai Duty Free will continue to recruit additional Chinese staff, and we are also looking at  improving the e-commerce website by having its content translated into Chinese.

What are your objectives for Dubai Week in China?

Dubai Duty Free’s participation in Dubai Week in China will strengthen our bilateral relationships and give us a better understanding and knowledge of Chinese culture. With the continuous growth of  Chinese travellers, our operation will live by its principle to provide customers with excellent customer service, value for money, a wide range of quality products and a world-class shopping environment.