Renowned for the extensive range of quality products available at attractive prices, Hong Kong continues to be a magnet for shoppers and tourists from around the world. If proof were needed, this year's Shopping Festival, organised by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, has drawn 4.6 million visitors and generated total spending of HK$1.85 billion in ten weeks. Local retailers are seeing immediate benefits from the soaring number of inbound travellers and, aware of the opportunities, many high-profile international brands are now either establishing or upgrading flagship stores.
As an example, fashion group I.T has grown rapidly in the past twelve months and seen the number of local outlets increase by 40 per cent to the current total of 160. These include I.T and i.t multi-brand stores targeting the rich and famous, plus b+ab, http://www.izzue.com, double-park, 5cm, Arnold Palmer and other outlets, which are geared towards trendy and affluent young people.
According to Fanny Lo, assistant personnel manager of I.T, the company foresees further expansion and is actively looking for new recruits. Frontline salespeople are most in demand and would join a sales team of over 1,000, which accounts for about 70 per cent of total headcount. Latest plans call for the recruitment of 100 more sales professionals by the end of the year.
The tourist boom is definitely driving growth and, in order to make the most of this, the group is looking to enhance service standards. Raymond Tin, assistant shop manager of the I.T Silvercord Tower store says: "Serving tourists is more demanding as we usually get only one chance to deal with them." He adds that word of mouth is a significant factor among tourists and, therefore, it is important to be very attentive during every single interaction with a customer from overseas.
While more than half of Hong Kong's inbound tourists now coming from mainland China, Doris Lee, shop manager of I.T Causeway Bay, points out that it can be a challenge to serve them. "Unlike westerners who always keep smiling, mainland customers are less outgoing and expressive, so it takes longer for them to warm up." Therefore, she says, sales staff must be exceptionally patient, friendly and respectful in dealing with them. Ms Lee also explains that language differences can be a major obstacle. "It's not just about being fluent in Putonghua. The way you express yourself and the use of slang are critical if you want to get on with mainland customers," she notes.
Based on her own experience, Ms Lee adds that customers usually have specific needs and want to find something different. "That's why they come to us for advice and ideas," she says. For her, the most rewarding part of the job is being able to help customers successfully change their personal image or find a new look.
To make this possible, the group emphasises training and long-term professional development, and Ms Lo points out that frontline staff are regarded as much more than salespeople. "They don't just focus on selling products, but are fashion consultants able to provide expert advice and satisfy individual requirements," she says.
The staff development programme concentrates on product knowledge, personal imaging and professional attitude. It includes brand-focused workshops in which designers and production teams provide briefings about the concepts behind each seasonal collection, its selling points and the matching techniques. There are also tailor-made programmes for staff at all levels to enhance soft and hard skills. "We are committed to career development so that staff can grow with the company," says Ms Lo, "We continue to invest in this and keep employees up to date with the latest trends and the management or leadership skills necessary to move up."
In order to attract a pool of young professionals who are committed to the fashion business, the group has introduced some innovative practices. For example, according to Jonathan Yau, personnel officer of I.T, a recruitment counter operates each week at Silvercord Tower to encourage people to attend walk-in interviews. In addition, a special recruitment team has been set to search proactively for suitable candidates.
Mr Yau says that usually means someone with previous customer service experience, which could be in the retail or catering sectors. However, a candidate's attitude rather than their background or skill sets is the most important thing. "They should be adaptable and positive, which is essential in handling the fast changes and pressures of our daily operations," he explains.
Suet Cheung, currently a salesperson at http://www.izzue.com in Kowloon Tong, joined the company from the catering industry. She was attracted by the I.T name and the group's dynamic image, and points out that retail sales is actually more demanding than work as a waitress. "Someone who goes into a restaurant will usually eat a meal, but someone who enters a shop won't necessarily make a purchase," she says. Nevertheless, she finds her current job far more satisfying and appreciates having better learning opportunities and brighter prospects.
- Fashion retail group is benefiting from the increase in
- Around 100 sales professionals to be hired before the
end of 2005
- The roles involve advising customers on fashion trends
and the latest collections
- Training programmes cover product knowledge plus hard
and soft skills