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For luxury timepieces, S'pore is the one to watch
Publication Date : 18-04-2012
It has no luxury watch brands and is not known for making high-end jewellery.
Yet Singapore has managed to become the top global destination for Chinese shoppers keen to buy such items.
They spent at least S$265 million (US$212 million) on watches and jewellery during visits to the Republic between last April and this February.
That is considerably more than in Switzerland - traditionally regarded as the home of luxury timepieces - which came in only seventh, with a total spend of S$54 million (US$43 million).
The figures were released by Global Blue, a company that offers tax refunds to tourists. They showed that Chinese shoppers who used its service in Singapore each forked out an average of S$8,757 (US$7,000). Louis Vuitton was their favourite brand, followed by Chanel and Gucci.
For all items, not just watches and jewellery, France was top with S$736 million spent, followed by Singapore with S$501 million.
Stephan Ritzmann, group chief executive of home-grown retailer Sincere Fine Watches, said he was not at all surprised the Republic had emerged as the top destination for luxury timepieces.
He said: "Singapore is the fifth-largest importer of Swiss watches in the world, and therefore has a high level of sophistication and knowledge of luxury watches. Also, customer service here is second to none and Chinese shoppers here understand that there is a commitment to authenticity here."
Ritzmann revealed that tourists account for nearly half of Sincere's total business in Singapore, with Chinese shoppers the biggest contributors. Most of them are businessmen, who buy watches costing up to several hundred thousand dollars.
Charles Chan, managing director of high-end retailer Larry Jewelry, said he was surprised that the Republic had surged to the top. However, he added: "Singapore could be very strong as a destination for Chinese shoppers because of the combination of having a variety of brands renowned for both watches and jewellery here. In Switzerland, it's mainly watches, so it's not as attractive."
Chan said his Chinese customers were "very daring" in their spending habits. "They go for the largest and best quality stones in the shop, and it's not rare to see customers spending more than S$100,000 each time."
Sincere has also noticed that its Chinese clients are becoming more sophisticated, and paying attention to brands rather than price.
Ritzmann said: "In the past two years, we have found that Chinese shoppers are becoming increasingly savvy in their consumption of luxury products, and are willing to explore a greater variety of brands."
Singapore will continue to attract Chinese shoppers, said Manelik Sfez, Global Blue vice-president of partner and corporate marketing. He said its appeal is due to factors such as its proximity to China, a lack of visa issues and a safe environment. Plus, "you have the best from everywhere in the world in a small place. That's a major advantage".
Sfez said Singaporean retailers should understand Chinese consumers' increasing sophistication and cater to their tastes accordingly. He said: "Their move along the curve of discernment is extremely fast, much faster than the Japanese. The sophistication which Japanese shoppers took 10 years to achieve, the Chinese are taking two to four. They can discern style and design."
To gain even more appeal, he advised luxury retailers in Singapore to market their stores here in China, and to use "emotional power".
He said: "For Chinese shoppers, shopping in the flagship store of Chanel in Paris has a strong emotional factor, because of its history and heritage. Retailers here need to establish the same emotional power, even though they probably cannot go down the heritage route."
He added: "Nevertheless, Singapore has more than compensated with its large variety of goods, and cultural and geographical proximity."