HONG KONG: Harrods, the luxury British department store, has no significant physical retail presence in China, yet it maintains a strong relationship with Chinese shoppers through a range of marketing techniques.

These include the deployment of key opinion leaders (KOLs) on popular social media platforms, such as WeChat and Weibo, experiential marketing and – bucking industry trends – ongoing confidence about the effectiveness of high-end print magazines.

Michael Ward, Managing Director of Harrods, discussed the company’s marketing activities in an interview with Campaign Asia during one of his regular trips to China, which he has been visiting for more than a decade.

He explained that Harrods benefits from Chinese consumers’ love of exclusivity and that its flagship store in London’s Knightsbridge is such a draw for Chinese travellers that nearly a quarter of their average total spend while in the UK is made there.

“Asian shoppers don’t have that discount mentality. What they want is the very best of everything. They want something that’s unique and they’ll search that out,” he said. “Because of our relationships with the brands we’ll have that product that no one else has got.”

But exclusivity on its own is not enough, which has required Harrods to build and maintain a long-term relationship of trust with Chinese consumers.

“This has been a long journey and this is part of the reason why we’ve been more successful with the Chinese customer going to the UK is we’ve built that trust over the many years that we’ve been coming here,” Ward said.

On his latest visit to the country, Ward and his small team have unveiled a new biannual Asian edition of Harrods magazine because “we find the ultra-net worth still likes that tactile nature of paper”.

Around 30,000 copies will be distributed in the region in association with Mandarin Oriental, the luxury hotel chain, and in first-class airline lounges. In addition, 18,000 copies will be sent directly to consumers in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Singapore.

But when asked if Harrods would ever consider opening a large physical store in China, Ward thought the suggestion highly unlikely.

“In honesty, there aren’t very many success stories of retailers going to America or China and being true to their own DNA and being successful,” he said. “I look at the stores that have set up in China. They don’t look like their mothership. And we can’t have that. If it’s Harrods it’s got to be Harrods.”

Sourced from Campaign Asia; additional content by WARC staff