According to the UNWTO, shopping has become a main motivator for travel and a recent Booking.com survey revealed that 57% of global travellers would consider shopping opportunities an important factor in their destination decision making. Click. spoke to Beatrice Bazell, Head of Specialist & Corporate Tours at Totally Tailored to learn more about tapping into the captive shopping tourism market and creating unique experiences for guests.
Click.: How did the London Shopping Tours start?
Bazell: Our first shopping tour was a direct request from a customer of our existing private tours of London. We hired a stylist and she arranged pre-selected items, setups in changing rooms and had personal relationships with the likes of designer department store, Liberty. What we observed about those [tours] is that they didn't they didn't fit very well with our idea of what a great experience of London would be. So, when it came to launching our own products we worked out that what people really want is a friend for the day. They don't necessarily want somebody who's a professional in fashion - they want someone they feel they can trust, who's going to make them feel really comfortable and also give them a little bit of history and context.
Click.: What do your guests look for?
Bazell: London is famous as a shopping destination, so we try to include a tour of a classic department store and a bit of history; it really brings modern trends to life when you can say ‘oh, that dates back to the 1830s when the three-piece suit was first emerging’. We talk a lot about cultural relevance. London's reputation of handmade, bespoke, original and innovative design really starts to mean something when you're designing a tour.
I would be so excited if any opportunity came up to lead a tour to Scotland to look at the tweed mills which supply Chanel or go to see the traditional shoemakers in Northampton. We still have the vestiges of those powerhouse industries. There is real value in Manchester's reputation as cutting edge with young designers or Liverpool's reputation just as a design destination, but London's reputation for style really does give it an edge when it comes to attracting people.
Click.: Are there particular markets that show a greater interest in shopping tourism?
Bazell: The biggest shoppers I've had so far have been Texans, Californians and a lady from Louisiana - so a predominance of West Coast and southern [US] states. I have had a couple of guests from Hong Kong and one lady in particular who visited every upscale lingerie shop as she was really focused on what she couldn't get at home.
We have found that our guests want to do a day of shopping at the end of a sightseeing trip or they're repeat guests coming back to London having already done another classic tour with us. They also come for the very competitive exchange rates and while the current political climate has made it a bit less easy to predict our business, I have not noticed anybody spending less. Especially not Americans, which is great.
Click.: How do you create the right experience?
Bazell: We find out as much in advance about what they want. They may be really focused on going hat shopping or they may want to buy Christmas presents or find antiques. I’ve had huge fun on the Portobello Road, just walking up and down and seeing what's available, everything from chandeliers to antique maps to kitschy 1960s waving Chinese cats.
You want it to feel as flexible as possible, especially if they've got a driver - they might be ready to go to the East End after spending all morning in Chanel or Longchamp. If you want to be able to shop a lot and take your personal driver with you, that makes the whole thing a lot more comfortable. The high-end boutiques in London will courier everything back to your hotel, but for guests who’ve just spent £15,000 there’s often a feeling of ‘I don't want you to take it away, I want to have it with me’. It's that sense of trust they want.
Our clients also do not want to be perceived as rude, and when you have someone with you who can say ‘oh, I don't think the client likes that very much, can we have that in a different color, a different size?’, there is a buffer to help ensure a relaxed, enjoyable shopping experience.
When it comes to shopping, nobody wants to feel like an off-the-rack person. Everybody's got their own history, their own identity, their own priorities about what they want to express about themselves. The way to do it more successfully is to make it personal, make it feel intimate.
Click.: Do you think it's a market that's going to continue to grow and evolve?
Bazell: Oh yeah, definitely. Especially because of the globalisation of fashion and the uniformity of what you can find. London is a hub for international brands but there's also that sense that the British know how to style things, and I always get comments especially from American guests who enjoy just walking around being inspired. And also, the experience is a terrific souvenir - and you can't put a price on that. I’ve been on tours where no one's bought anything but they've had a wonderful time and that’s what it’s about for us: did you have a good time, did you learn things, did you feel confident in your choices.
- Totally Tailored launched its shopping tours in 2016, off the back of a personal request from a former customer
- The tours combine retail experiences - everything from luxury brands to antique shops - with historic context drawing on British fashion heritage
- Tours that are custom-created to the guests personal interests are the most successful, rather than one-size-fits
- Providing a personal driver helps create a more comfortable, secure experience for the guest