Hong Kong's retail landlords bet on Christmas cheer in their Shanghai malls as protests crush festive spirit at home

By Pearl Liu pearl.liu@scmp.com / https://www.scmp.com/business/china-business/article/3043443/hong-kongs-retail-landlords-bet-christmas-cheer-their?utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=contentexchange&utm_source=EdgeProp | December 26, 2019 10:53 AM SGT
Shoppers in Shanghai at this time of year are used to seeing malls decked out for Christmas. But this year the festivities seem bigger and more extravagant than ever before.
One of the reasons is that Hong Kong's retail landlords, faced with moribund sales and the prospect of vandalism at the hands of hardcore protesters, are pinning their hopes on their Shanghai shopping malls to bring them a little Christmas cheer.
Amid distinctly muted celebrations at home, they have spent big this year on festivities in Shanghai in an effort to lure shoppers and encourage them to part with their money.
"This is just amazing. I did not expect much festival spirit in Shanghai during Christmas as we usually have in Hong Kong," said Britney Fung, a Hong Kong marketing executive celebrating her first Christmas in Shanghai after being relocated.
Fung and her sister were queuing for a selfie in front of an enormous Christmas bauble adorned with classic, monogram floral patterns designed by Louis Vuitton at the Grand Gateway 66 mall in Xujiahui, one of Shanghai's main commercial districts.
The shopping centre is operated by Hong Kong developer Hang Lung Properties.
"Christmas retail in Shanghai has delivered more impressive and better performance year over year, and that is in line with the central government's encouragement of domestic consumption," said Vera Wu, general manager of Grand Gateway 66.
"We have really brainstormed to bring unique and catchy elements to lure consumers to come to our space."
In another of Hang Lung's shopping malls, on Shanghai's West Nanjing Road, a 16-metre tall Christmas tree decorated by Cartier has lit up the neighbourhood.
A few blocks away two major Hong Kong developers, Swire and HKRI, have pulled out all the stops to turn the HKRI Taikoo Hui shopping centre into a winter wonderland, with Santa Claus and his elves in the shadows of colourful castles, forests and a 25-metre-tall Christmas tree surrounded by a 100-metre long light bar.
Sung Kung Kai Properties told the Post it has invested more than 10 million yuan (US$1.43 million) on special Christmas attractions at its mall in the iconic skyscraper, the Shanghai International Finance Centre (IFC), a double-digit increase from Christmas 2018.
Christmas decorations at Shanghai International Finance Centre. Photo: SCMP Handout alt=Christmas decorations at Shanghai International Finance Centre. Photo: SCMP Handout
"We see more young and high-end consumers receiving their bonuses during this period, and they are more willing to buy Christmas gifts for themselves as a reward for a year of hard work," said a spokesman from Sun Hung Kai Properties.
"This group of consumers are more likely to shop at places with catchy interactive elements that they can play with, snap up and post on social media."
Thus, the Hong Kong developer chose to recreate three scenes from the Walt Disney blockbuster Frozen 2 in the mall, allowing its shoppers to take pictures with the ice queen Elsa and her friends.
The animated sequel has been a hot favourite among Chinese filmgoers and raked in US$53 million on its first weekend " the highest ever for a Disney animated film in China.
Sun Hung Kai is expecting foot traffic and sales to increase between 10 and 20 per cent in its Shanghai IFC Mall, betting on the "robust economic momentum in Shanghai and a more enthusiastic festival spirit during Christmas in the city."
While Hong Kong-based landlords are busy spicing up their Christmas offerings in Shanghai, their malls back at home are lacking the usual elaborate, sparkling displays and performances.
Many have scrapped their Christmas plans after protesters set fire to a huge Christmas tree at Festival Walk shopping centre in Kowloon Tong, in November.
Within days of setting it up, Sun Hung Kai Properties pulled down its festive installation themed on Christmas fairytales at the IFC Mall in Central after the incident, while Wharf's Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui, downsized its display to just a couple of small pink Christmas trees.
"Hong Kong malls have kept their decorations to a minimum because of the fallen consumer sentiment caused by the recent political unrest, in addition to the ongoing in-mall protests," said Tiffany Lung, a retail analyst at Hong Kong-based research and tech firm Tofugear.
Harbour City was the scene of several scuffles between protesters and police during a so-called Christmas shopping rally last Saturday.
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.