by tess eyrich | December 1, 2014 | Style & Beauty
Luxury retail in Las Vegas has ballooned into an economic powerhouse, luring good customers with private VIP lounges, free-flowing champagne, only-in-Vegas items, multilingual private shoppers, and after-hours showings. Ready, set, shop: your first purchase might be an extra suitcase.
The Shops at Crystals’ gleaming exterior hints at the glittering offerings found inside.
Several years ago, officials at McCarran Airport observed a puzzling development: Planes leaving Las Vegas for Brazil weighed substantially more than planes arriving. The disparity was later revealed to be retail-related, as shopping-obsessed Brazilians had begun flying into McCarran armed with empty suitcases for all the luxury goods they would buy. The mystery was solved—its answer just happened to be buried beneath a few boxes of Louboutins.
In fact, the retail obsession has reached a fever pitch. Statistics compiled by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority show that in 2013, just shy of 40 million travelers touched down in Vegas. Fifty-nine percent of those visitors (and an astounding 91 percent of all international visitors) went shopping while they were staying in town.
Accordingly, the city has worked overtime to meet the demand for high-end goods. Some of Vegas’s most heavily trafficked lifestyle centers became even more exclusive, as Givenchy bypassed New York City for its first US boutique, on the Wynn Esplanade, and Mulberry opened in The Forum Shops at Caesars. Giorgio Armani, Céline, and Sisley boutiques all entered the Strip’s tangle of luxury stores.
The Shops at Crystals hosts one of Vegas’s six Dior boutiques.
Maureen Crampton, director of marketing for The Forum Shops, pinpoints its 1992 opening as the catalyst for the retail explosion. She recalls worrying that the doorway would be empty when the partitions were removed on opening day, only to find the opposite to be true. “The people came in droves,” she says, “but there were a lot of skeptics. Caesars wasn’t really sure how it was going to influence casino spending habits, but it really played an important role in bringing that first luxury customer to Las Vegas.”
The Forum Shops paved the way for a succession of other shopping centers over the next two decades, including The Shops at Crystals in 2009. Under the guidance of Farid Matraki, Crystals’ senior vice president and general manager, the massive trove of upscale goods has grown into a luxury phenomenon, with 50 high-fashion boutiques clustered around a bilevel ode to Louis Vuitton (the largest of the brand’s North American stores). “The retail trend is going more and more toward exclusivity,” Matraki says. “Especially over the last couple of years, we’re talking about cars, products, Hermès bags—things that the upper-echelon, higher-net-worth people are paying more and more money for.” In Matraki’s eyes, it’s this desire for extreme exclusivity that has propelled Vegas’s multiyear retail boom. “People don’t want to buy what they can find in their own neighborhood or town,” he says. “If you’re buying in Las Vegas, you want to buy the exceptional pieces so that you can go back and show the whole world that this is what you have and nobody else can have it. There is no price resistance when we’re talking about product that nobody else can get.”
“What we’re seeing is people now coming to Las Vegas specifically as a shopping destination,” says Hedy Woodrow, senior vice president of retail at Wynn and Encore. “We’ve seen a significant growth rate in Wynn’s retail overall—around 225 percent over the past few years.” Much of that growth, Woodrow says, can be attributed to an influx of savvy international shoppers, most from Asia and South America.
Barneys New York at the Grand Canal Shoppes at Venetian and Palazzo treats shoppers to private fitting rooms with exclusive collections.
Shoppers from China and Japan in particular purchase higher-priced items in larger volumes than other visitors, says Art Jimenez, senior director of leisure sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “Our Chinese visitors are spending just under $1,200 per person per trip,” he says, followed closely by visitors from Brazil, who spend roughly $1,000 per person per trip.
The LVCVA’s Shop Las Vegas initiative, designed to stimulate retail tourism, has partnered with Shop America, a national travel organization that stages shopping tours at top-performing retail centers across North America, including eight Vegas malls.
“One thing we never realized when we started the tours eight years ago was how appealing they would be to international visitors,” says Rosemary McCormick, president of the Shop America Alliance. “I would say about 60 to 70 percent of our clients are international tourists.” The demand for luxury products is so high among Chinese shoppers, McCormick adds, that one popular handbag retailer recently resorted to imposing a limit on the number of products available to them, “otherwise they’d clean out the whole store.”
And because Vegas attracts such a cosmopolitan (not to mention deep-pocketed) clientele, its shops are usually built larger to accommodate broader selections of “seasonless” apparel, footwear, and accessories. The result? Designer boutiques that look more like high-end department stores with multiple floors, ramped-up ready-to-wear collections, and even luxury services divisions to deal with VIP guests. “It can be a very difficult market to buy for because you have people coming in from all over the world—all different sizes, all different seasonal timing,” Matraki says, “and everybody is always leaving in an hour.”
Chanel has boutiques at both Wynn Las Vegas and its adjoining property, Encore, with a focus on fine jewelry.
It’s that same sense of urgency that impels Vegas retailers to create full-fledged luxury shopping experiences for their clients. Free-flowing Champagne, private fitting lounges, after-hours showings—they’re all de rigueur for luxury retailers who understand the importance of forging exclusive relationships. “As much as people think everybody’s transient, they’re always back in town,” says Matraki. “And some of my stores here do almost 25 percent of their business over the phone. When you build that kind of relationship with a customer, they trust you so much that the moment the new collection comes in, you can just put it in a box and ship it.”
For retailers, there’s at least one happy consequence of their focus on the experience: Vegas has been unscathed by online shopping, which has in some cases devastated traditional malls. In a world where consumers now value convenience just as much as quality, we’ve somehow mastered the complicated art of making a visit to a brick-and-mortar boutique more appealing than a five-minute Web transaction—and dramatically revamped our city’s identity, turning it into a luxury shopper’s paradise, to boot.
“You know, we have the best restaurants, shopping centers, entertainment, concerts,” Matraki says. “If you want to gamble, go ahead and gamble, but you don’t have to. Retail completes the experience because now we have something for everybody.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TORY KOOYMAN (DIOR); MELISSA VALLADARES; Eric Jamison/studio J inc (barnEys); richard ValEncia photography (clutch); barbara kraft (chanel)