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How Alipay is helping London stores cash in on China’s Golden Week

Justina Crabtree; special to
Melanie Stetson Freeman | The Christian Science Monitor | Getty Images

Golden Week, the ongoing Chinese national holiday, is expected to result in an influx of tourist shoppers to London's West End.

In honor of the occasion, British cosmetics chain The Body Shop has added itself to the short – but growing – list of U.K. stores that have implemented Alipay, a Chinese online payments platform which makes it easier for consumers to spend their money abroad.

Alipay is already facilitated at department stores Harrods and Selfridges.

To further bolster its popularity with Chinese tourists in the U.K., some branches of The Body Shop already display point of sale information in Chinese characters and employ Mandarin-speaking sales assistants. As of October 1, Alipay was made available for a four-month trial period in the chain's stores in London's Covent Garden, Oxford Street and Regent Street.

The expected influx of Chinese shoppers follows a bumper summer for foreign tourist spending in the West End. According to data from tourism shopping company Global Blue, total tax-free (non-EU) sales in the shopping district during August were up 44 percent year-on-year.

Chinese visitor spending increased even more, up 65 percent in August on the year according to Global Blue, with the average tourist from the country shelling out £1,453 ($1,850). | Getty Images

'Surprise summer uplift'

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of the New West End Company which represents businesses in the area, said that usually, the Chinese New Year period in February is the most prosperous for the district, "but, this year's surprise summer uplift has shifted the spotlight to October."

Tourists were looking to "cash in on the weak pound" following Brexit, he highlighted in a statement. Sterling hit a 31-year low against the dollar on Tuesday, following government discussions of a "hard Brexit," which could see the U.K. lose access to the EU single market and customs union.

The Body Shop told CNBC via telephone that if its initial trial with Alipay proves successful, it will extend the facility across stores in the U.K. and Europe. Its busiest stores for Chinese consumers are in London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Oxford and Newcastle, the company added.

Alipay's relationship with The Body Shop is facilitated by the Chinese company's partnership with Wirecard, a Germany-based electronic payment company. Jörn Leogrande, Wirecard's Executive Vice President of Mobile Services, told CNBC via telephone that they had received "massive interest" following its partnership with Alipay, which was leading to a "very promising 2017."

When speculating where Alipay will move in the future, Leogrande cited London and Paris as key regions for growth, adding that the system "pretty much follows the route of the Chinese tourist."

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