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First-Day Sales of $8 Million at World’s Biggest Duty-Free Mall That’s Banking on Beauty

November 13, 2022
November 13, 2022
China Duty Free Group

Influential travel retailer China Duty Free Group (CDF), unveiled a monumental new duty-free shopping mall covering three million square feet in Haikou, the capital of the tourist island province of Hainan, at the end of October. Within that giant footprint, 800 international and local brands are present, with perfumes and cosmetics having top billing.

On the first day of opening, the new mall, called cdf Haikou International Duty Free City, attracted 44,000 consumers who spent 60 million yuan ($8.3 million), according to duty-free observer DFE on WeChat.

At 323,000 square feet, beauty has more than a tenth of the space, all on one floor. A tenth may sound small as a percentage, but it is almost 10 times bigger than the 36,600 square feet at Samaritaine in Paris, which is operated by rival travel retailer LVMH-owned DFS Group. That beauty space is the biggest in continental Europe.

China likes to super-size its projects, and CDF, part of the recently listed China Tourism Group Duty Free, is firmly onboard with that idea. Another of its duty-free malls in Hainan, at Haitang Bay, Sanya, was the biggest in the world until cdf Haikou International Duty Free City came along.

CDF claims its beauty offer is “the most complete brand selection in the world” with a strong fragrance offer. Now that Chinese shoppers have come to enjoy fragrances of all types, not just the very light styles they used to choose, fragrance has become a key category in the duty-free channel. “The fragrance category has attracted much attention from consumers,” said CDF.

The beauty floor gives duty-free shoppers a wealth of interactive experiences, from virtual makeup and exclusive customization to fragrance classroom sessions and lessons on how stars create their looks.

Ten exclusive beauty brands in Hainan

As well as the expected high-end brands in prominent boutique positions, for example, Chanel, Clé de Peau Beauté, Dior, Estée Lauder, La Mer, Lancôme, YSL, and other top beauty and skincare houses, Haikou International Duty Free City has introduced some firsts. They include the storied label Santa Maria Novella, plus 10 brands exclusive to CDF across its Hainan stores. Three, Sulwhasoo, Laneige, and Hera, are from South Korea and owned by Amore Pacific Corporation.

The mall also provides shoppers with exclusive customized services for a variety of brands, including what is claimed to be the first spa experience in global travel retail from Guerlain and Givenchy. Other personalized services are available from Hermès makeup, Shiseido, IPSA (part of Shiseido), Coach (embossed leather cards); SK-II (artificial intelligence non-contact skin testing), and more.

The promotion of national culture is also high on the agenda, so CDF has opened the first China-focused global travel retail beauty store. Guochao Beauty Cosmetics’ aim is to create a home for Chinese beauty houses. The term guochao (国朝) means “Chinese national trend” and refers to the pickup in demand for domestic brands, particularly from the under 30s.

This younger generation has been taking more pride in China’s own products, style, and culture—especially as pushback to Western anti-China rhetoric increases—rather than automatically choosing international alternatives. While global beauty multinationals have bought into the trend by using more national symbols, images, or full-blown Chinese collaborations, especially around Chinese New Year, if this trend continues it could be bad news for them in the long term.

CDF’s China focus at Haikou extends into other categories, too. The Maotai Experience Store enables consumers to experience the brewing craftsmanship of this key domestic spirit close up, while the retailer has created the “smart living hall” with tech giant Huawei.

Other elements designed to engage include changing art installations, and a themed atrium (27 meters high and 12 meters wide) called the Aura Skyline Secret Forest that uses high-definition visuals to create misty mountain tops, moonlit rocky coasts, watery, dreamlike forests, and flowery valleys.

Haikou International Duty Free City also has the world’s largest 180-degree dome screen flying theater. With a 16-meter diameter dome and 60-seat ride, it will be accompanied by multi-themed films to create the experience of flying over China and other places, including a world tour, for example. Housed in the mall as well will be Hainan’s first international movie-themed IP experience, to be built by a professional Hollywood team.

The business model is one of a day out filled with nonstop entertainment, all supporting the core aim of driving duty-free shopping.

Continuing to deliver high sales?

Following China’s Communist Party Congress last month—held every five years—there was no word on any relaxation of the country’s zero-COVID policy. It means that, until further notice, Chinese nationals cannot go abroad, so shoppers looking to buy duty-free beauty products only have one option: to go to Hainan and spend their generous annual duty-free allowance of roughly $14,000.

Since that allowance was tripled in mid-2020, sales in Hainan have boomed, led by beauty. Last year, duty-free sales on the island topped $9 billion, according to state-owned news agency Xinhua, nearly doubling the revenue from 2020. This year, sporadic outbreaks of COVID led to temporary store closures on the island, so revenues may not be at the same level. State media have been largely quiet on the subject.

Also not helping is China’s economic situation, with growth forecasts being slashed due to a teetering property market, the lasting impacts of the zero-COVID policy that have affected the spending power of China’s middle classes, and wider global fears of recession.

Nevertheless, CDF is bullish. While its new duty-free shopping mall is not in the main tourist hub of the island, Haikou is the busiest entry point by air to the island, and the nearest city to mainland China from where the vast majority of visitors descend. CDF believes that the mall will be a driver of domestic tourism to the island, and that cdf Haikou International Duty Free City “will become a new benchmark.”


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