Tax-free spending in the UK hit a 10-year high last month as a flurry of international shoppers descended on the market to push up sales by +40%, year-on-year.
The sharp rise – based on tax refund data from Global Blue – was heavily influenced by the Chinese whose spending rose by +52% in December 2013 compared to the previous year to account for 23% of total sales (see table below).
Russians too were in evidence, claiming second position with sales up +30% YOY and taking 7% of the market. That growth puts them ahead of any single Middle Eastern nation (usually strong markets for tax-free shopping in the UK). This follows a traditional surge in Russian travel to the UK over the Christmas and Orthodox Christmas period, boosted by discounted tickets to Europe from Czech Airlines.
The highest per-head spending however was reserved for the Middle East nations of Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, all with average spending in excess of £1,000 ($1,650).
For the year as a whole (January to December) Global Blue’s Tax Free Spend Index shows that Thailand led the growth in spend among the SEAT nations (South East Asia and Thailand) but that December saw Malaysian sales growth outperform Thailand’s for the first time as total spend in store rose +73% compared to Thailand’s +20% (see chart above).
The overall number of international tax-free spend transactions rose +31% for December.