Bloomingdale's Lays Out Welcome Mat To Chinese Shoppers

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A number of luxury retailers are rolling out tactics this year to mark the beginning of the Lunar New Year. For Bloomingdale's in New York City, though, reaching out to Asian shoppers during the cultural celebration is a decades-long tradition.

The upscale department store's marketing strategy traces back to 1971, the year President Nixon lifted the U.S. trade embargo with the People's Republic of China. Immediately, Marvin Traub, then-president of Bloomingdale's, decided he wanted to sell Chinese goods in his flagship store on the Upper East Side.

"Bloomingdale's was the first store in the United States that had an event that was totally devoted to Chinese products and Chinese traditions and Chinese craftsmanship," says Michael Gould, Bloomingdale's current president and CEO.

The "China Passage" boutique Traub envisioned opened in the fall of 1971, and caused a sensation in New York. Customers poured in to buy housewares, crafts and even Mao suits and caps made on the mainland.

Now, Gould says, Bloomingdale's is just as interested in having sales go the other way. The store is attracting affluent visitors from Asia by creating a retail environment that caters to their interests and culture. Chinese tourists, especially, he says, have become as desirable in America as American tourists once were in Europe.

"All one has to do is walk the streets of Paris, or walk into Galeries Lafayette or Printemps, or even Harrods or Selfridges in London, and see how the Chinese have really gone there," Gould says. "You can see they've gone to where it's easy."

With visa processes now speedier for Chinese visitors, executives at Bloomingdale's are determined to draw them in the doors. While other stores recently have begun to woo Asian shoppers, Bloomingdale's remains a coveted and well-known destination among cosmopolitan Chinese because of its 40-year history with China.

Star Luxe, a bilingual and New York-based media platform, recently took its millions of Chinese viewers into the flagship store in Manhattan.

A reporter panned the camera to show off the store's welcome banners with Chinese calligraphy, scarlet floral arrangements and pop-up shops featuring everything from luxury leather goods — in red, for luck — to serving pieces in silver and gold.

Forty years ago, Bloomingdale's was a different scene when it asked Chinese manufacturers to adjust some of their items to appeal to American buyers. Now, it's making its own adjustments.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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