My Paris Stories

Shopping Chinatown

If you walk around Paris tat the moment you'd find it hard, like me, to avoid the city-of-lights-cliché. The grand boulevards, the faubourgs and avenues are shimmering, glimmering, the department stores have rearmed their facades and turned them into disney-style billboards. It looks nice though, especially at dusk and dawn, you feel tempted to hop in and purchase some gifts for Christmas or something nice for yourself. But you know what? The only people who really flock in here are Chinese tourists.

Chinese don’t care about a good French meal

Sneak into Galeries Lafayette or Printemps on Boulevard Haussmann during advent on a late afternoon – and you’ll feel like you're stranded in a little Shanghai or a sort of shopping Chinatown. Even in August, the sales managers of both big department stores told the Figaro newspaper what this is all about: the Chinese, they said, stayed at cheap chain hotels far from the city center, they didn’t care about a good French meal either – but they’d spend a full third of their travel budget (including the flight costs) on shopping.

The high-rollers, if you like, those Chinese travellers who cross the 175 Euro barrier in order to get a 12 percent tax cut, would in fact spend, on average, 1138 Euros (1500 US$) per head during their short stay, on Hermès scarfs, Gucci bags, Burberry coats. That’s a rise of 118 percent in only five years, imagine. Tourists, mostly Chinese, now make up 55 percent of sales at Galeries Lafayette, 40 percent at Printemps. So you won’t be surprised to hear that Printemps is handing out floor plans in Mandarin nowadays. And you could even order your personal shopping guide who’s fluent in Chinese.

Two or three nice watches worth 80.000 Euros

That’s good service and with good reason: the average Chinese shopper at Printemps spends up to 2000 Euros (2660 US$). „Two to three times a week“ a customer offers himself or his loved ones a nice watch worth 80.000 Euros (106.000 US$). Galeries Lafayette is handing out city maps in Mandarin. But wouldn’t you think they would do that here in Paris, no: the maps are distributed in Beijing, Shanghai or Shenzhen in order to reach the potential customers even before they take off to Europe.

It is amazing, isn’t it. And it’s changing the whole shopping game. Say good-bye to the Japanese who dominated the 1980s, wave off the Russians who took over in the 1990s. This is the age of China and you can get a feeling for it in the shopping zones of Paris.

150 tons of cheese are sold at the airport

Or at Charles-de-Gaulle-airport. Out there, at Roissy, many travellers go crazy, including lots of Chinese. If „Le Monde“ isn’t wrong, 500.000 little Eiffel towers, 350.000 ties, 2.5 million bottles of perfume and 150 tons of cheese are sold in the airport shops every year. And of course we will never forget the boldest of all Chinese customers who spent 46.423 Euros (62.000 US$) in only ten minutes in an airport liquor shop when he bought some bottles of the finest burgundy in 2008, shortly before Christmas. Who says the Chinese would threaten our economy? They finance it!