Duty free shops at London’s Heathrow Airport may not receive as many Chinese customers during this year’s Spring Festival shopping spree season, as its retailer partner World Duty Free’s alleged unfair coupon policy has outraged Chinese customers, and the shop’s latest official apology was deemed “unacceptable” by dozens of netizens.
On Sunday, a part-time Chinese staff working at World Duty Free’s shop at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2 published a testimony via Chinese Twitter-like Weibo, revealing how the store explicitly raised the minimum purchase price for Chinese travelers to enjoy discounts.
According to the testimony, Chinese travelers reportedly need to spend 1,000 pounds (1,400 US dollars) to receive a 20-percent discount the next time they shop at the store, when shoppers of other nationalities could get the VIP voucher after forking out no more than 250 pounds (around 350 US dollars).
As netizens kept airing outrage and disappointment against the company for the discriminatory treatment, World Duty Free issued a statement on Tuesday, offering a bilingual apology on its social media accounts.
“As a global company we are committed to treating all our customers with respect and in a consistent and fair way,” the company stated on its Facebook and Twitter accounts. “We would like to offer our sincere apologies to our customers who were in any way made to feel this was not the case.”
In the statement, the company admitted the questioned VIP coupon program is “confusing” and claimed they have re-briefed staff to ensure a clearer promotion scheme.
However, the statement did not further clarify on the exact amount of money customers need to spend in order to enjoy the VIP discount.
In addition, the statement backfired as netizens spotted ambiguous translation difference between the Chinese and English statements.
While the Chinese statement addressed directly to “Chinese people” in addition to “all customers”, the English text left out “Chinese customers” explicitly.
“Once again, we would like to take this opportunity to apologize profoundly to all our valued customers,” the last line reads in the English statement.
In the Chinese statement, however, the translation is subtly different. “We’d like to use this opportunity to again apologize profoundly to our valued customers and the Chinese public.”
In wake of the statement, Netizens confronted World Duty Free with the delicate difference.
“A difference in the last sentence between the English version and the Chinese one. Don’t have the guts to offer your apology to Chinese customers in English? I can’t even see ‘Chinese’ in the English statement. If you do want to apologize, do it sincerely,” @ChrisZhengzq commented on Twitter.
“Well you still haven’t made it clear with what amount of purchase customers can receive this VIP voucher. Hope you can give us a clear standard.” Another netizen @tonyjiancong raised concern about the price standard.
The latest statement is the second of the company’s statement to customers since the outbreak of the discrimination row over the past days. On Monday, both World Duty Free and Heathrow Airport responded and apologized to the widespread concern on Chinese social media platforms.
After giving his testimony, the staff, only recognized as @renjiannaipao on Chinese Twitter-like Weibo, also responded to World Duty Free’s statement.
“The statement didn’t make it clear how much customers have to pay in order to get the VIP voucher, nor did they explain why Chinese customers received the different treatment,” he wrote. “I don’t know what actions the store may take, as I was told not to go to work.”
“I hope Chinese customers can spend rationally and gain the respect we deserve. Thank you everyone,” @renjiannaipao added.
Over 130 million Chinese tourists traveled abroad in 2017, a seven-percent increase from a year earlier. According to China Tourism Academy, outbound Chinese tourists spent 261 billion US dollars in 2016.