Five-star shopping demands top talent
There are huge rewards to be reaped from serving the wealthiest and most discerning clientele, so it's no surprise that the competition is only becoming more intense among Hong Kong's plushest luxury shopping malls. This is especially so given the ongoing boom in consumer spending.
Driven by surging arrivals of deep-pocketed mainland visitors and a strong domestic economy, retail sales soared by 29.1 per cent year on year in July to HK$32.5 billion, according to the Census and Statistics Department.
Government data shows that sales of jewellery, watches and valuable gifts jumped by a staggering 51.8 per cent.
Luxury malls such as Elements in West Kowloon are pulling out the stops not only to attract big-spenders in the first place, but to get them to return by offering special loyalty programmes and membership cards.
According to Betty Leong, general manager for investment property at MTR Corporation, members of Elements Club enjoy a wide array of exclusive rewards and privileges.
"Members have special guest invitations to a number of high profile parties and exclusive events, ranging from private tastings to pre-launch sales, as well as extra parking privileges," she says.
Of course, the primary attraction of any mall is its retail outlets, so the goal of the leading players in the field is to bring in the biggest and the best of luxury brands.
Gucci has opened a 12,000-square-foot luxury lifestyle store at Elements that is the brand's largest outlet on one single floor in Greater China. Louis Vuitton will also set up a mega-flagship boutique at Elements soon. Mulberry of Britain has also been running a new signature store on two floors of the mall, while Miu Miu and Prada have their stores of more than 5,000 sq ft each.
Elements has also attracted a number of prestigious international brands that are making their debuts in Hong Kong, including Damiani, Carshoe, Karen Millen, Pringle of Scotland and even the extremely hip MBT.
Major holidays like Christmas and Chinese New Year are peak periods for spending, and leading malls have been known to spend tens of millions of dollars on promotions for important seasonal events to increase their exposure and raise brand awareness.
Leong says Elements has always been devoted to bringing in well-known international art and culture shows to enhance shoppers' lifestyles and experiences.
"Over the years, we have successfully launched a series of successful marketing campaigns, including the award-winning 'Flirting with Sound', Lang Lang's Charity Concert with Unicef, and Andy Warhol's 'A Close Encounter with Warhola' campaign," she says.
And how do they set out to specifically target the kind of mainland shoppers who splash out huge sums of up to HK$1 million a day in sprees in the city's poshest malls?
Among other strategic marketing actions, Leong says Elements has set up a dedicated tourist promotion counter to serve mainland visitors.
There are also Putonghua-speaking ambassadors on hand to take care of the needs of mainland shoppers.
All of the ambassadors at Elements are offered Putonghua and English language courses to further enhance their communications skills and they are given comprehensive induction courses and study kits on mall and tenant introductions.
Team-building events such as floral arrangement workshops are also organised, which serve to strengthen staff members' sense and knowledge of art and lifestyle.
Overall, Leong says the West Kowloon mall sets out to provide "five-star service" to all its visitors and guests, as it strives to establish itself as a landmark for "the chicest and most pleasurable shopping experience" in town.
Looking ahead, Elements will also enjoy an important location advantage over its many rivals. It is right next to the Hong Kong terminus of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, which is due to start service in 2015.