Fashion designers tend to talk about the luxury market in China as though there were hundred-dollar bills just piling up in the streets over there. But while companies are obviously eager to sell something, anything, in China, they aren’t necessarily treating their customers very well once they get there. Vera Wang just opened her first store on China’s mainland, but some consumers’ feathers were ruffled when word got out that the store would be charging a hefty fee just to try on the designer’s famous wedding gowns.
According to Shanghaiist, Vera Wang’s new two-story, 4,752-square-foot Shanghai flagship is the designer’s largest in the world. It has three bridal salons, a VIP area with a separate entrance, and bridal customers calling weeks in advance to make an appointment to try on dresses. The privilege of doing so costs 3,000 yuan, or $482.
Admittedly, $482 is not a lot when compared with the price of a Vera Wang wedding gown, but it’s still a significant chunk of change. According to People’s Daily, Shanghai boasts the highest average income in China at 4,331 yuan per month ($696). The cost of trying on a Vera Wang wedding gown is more than twice the monthly minimum wage in Shanghai, which is 1,450 yuan or $233.
For her $482, a bride-to-be gets to try on dresses for 90 minutes. There are 80 dresses displayed at the store, so she’d better change quickly. And forget about sending cell phone pics to mom, because photography and filming are strictly forbidden in the store.
The fee is applied to the cost of the dress if the bride-to-be decides to make a purchase, but if she doesn’t find her dream gown she’s SOL.
The fitting fee and photography ban are ostensibly to prevent copycats from knocking off Wang’s designs. Some bridal stores in Hong Kong have been known to apply such fees, but Vera Wang’s stores have not been associated with that sort of thing, even in Hong Kong. In fact, a big part of the controversy comes from the fact that, according to the Global Times, the Shanghai store is the only Vera Wang shop in the world to impose a trying on fee.
“I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t spend that money on an airfare to Hong Kong, where the Vera salon doesn’t charge for fittings – and the prices are overall much cheaper than on the Mainland,” wrote a commenter on the Wedding Bee forums.
According to the attached poll, only one respondent on the Wedding Bee forum would be willing to pay a fee to try on dresses. The other 38 said, “Hells no.”
“[For] a company who wants to do business in China, this policy will not endear the company to Chinese clients,” said Red Luxury, a Chinese fashion and shopping blog that says shoppers in China are becoming increasingly offended at the differences they see between their shopping experiences overseas and in China.
For example, an Omega watch store in China charges $257 to change a battery. In Milan, that service is free. Dolce & Gabbana also lost face in China last year when its Hong Kong store was caught physically preventing passersby from taking pictures of its window displays, and the company eventually had to issue a public apology. People in New York can photograph the D&G windows as much as they like.
“While some are worse than others, nearly all foreign luxury brands seem to be doing their utmost to squeeze every last drop out of the allegedly ‘unsophisticated’ Chinese consumers’ wallets,” observed Shanghaiist’s Stephany Zoo.
Offending customers with country-specific rules seems like a really terrible idea for any company that wants to take advantage of China’s booming luxury market, which is all of them, ever. Diane von Furstenberg once told an audience in Beijing that she wanted to sell a T-shirt to every person in China. Well, duh. There are more than 1.3 billion people in China. She could make a penny from each shirt and still clear $13 million.
Vera Wang’s dresses obviously bring more than a penny, and the company intends to sell a lot of them in China. The company’s former president, Mario Grauso, told WWD that brides in Shanghai sometimes buy three wedding dresses – one in red, one in white, and one evening gown. Considering the dresses at the Shanghai shop range in price from 30,000 ($4,817) yuan to 300,000 yuan ($48,174), one imagines slot machine dollar signs rolling around in his eyeballs when he said it.
Vera Wang has plans to open a Beijing store in 2014. They should probably try to work this out by then.
What do you think – would you ever pay to try on clothes?
(Image via Vera Wang)