Bicester Village – the well known 1.2 mile long, open-air, luxury outlet shopping mall, lined with over 160 of the world’s top (and priciest) designer brands.
It’s easy to see the appeal – Outlet shopping centres are great for bargain hunting, and Bicester Village is beautifully presented, with the wooden ‘barn-style’ shopfronts lining a spotlessly clean, flowery street, with coffee stands and and restaurants throughout.
But there’s something a bit different about it.
It’s really popular with tourists.
According to time.com and thenationalnews.com, in 2018 Bicester Village was the second most-visited destination in England by Chinese tourists, second only to Buckingham Palace. Of the mall’s 7 million visitors a year, 1 million of those are Chinese tourists, and more than 15% of visitors to the mall in 2018 were visiting the UK from the Middle East.
Anyone else think this is a bit weird?
According to The Guardian, 80% of Chinese tourists visiting the UK make the trip to Bicester Village while they’re here.
But why? The UK has a lot of history after all – why is an out of town shopping centre in the Oxfordshire countryside such a top attraction? Apparently visited far more than even the Tower of London, Windsor or all the other castles around the country.
I mean… What?
In 2015 they even opened a train station specifically for the Bicester Village shopping centre – the first new railway line to link London to another British city for 100 years.
The £30 return train journey from Marylebone Station to the Oxfordshire shopping centre is only 45 minutes, making it extremely easy to get to from central London.
I think it all comes down to cash.
Bicester Village offers a huge number of luxury brands at discounted outlet prices, and until Brexit happened in January 2021, on top of the already heavy discounts, visitors to the UK from outside the EU were also eligible for tax-free shopping – so that meant 20% off anything bought in the UK that was taxed.
Suddenly that £3,000 designer dress at 60% off (£1,200), minus 20% VAT tax comes to £960. A true bargain! (?)
Now that tourism is getting back on its feet after the pandemic, it will be interesting to see if Bicester Village continues to draw the crowds from abroad since Brexit has removed the tax-free shopping benefits tourists used to enjoy. It would make an interesting case study!