Hong Kong's Second-Hand Luxury Goods See Sales Increase

Second-hand shops that sell designer goods are seeing increasing sales, even in Hong Kong, the heart of Asia's luxury market.

People crowd in Milan Station on a recent Saturday afternoon, shopping for designer handbags. Occasionally a customer takes one off the shelf, hanging it on her shoulder or tucking it under her arm, trying it on for size.

The Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Chanel handbags sport price tags of $200 and more, but most are pre-owned, so retail less than original sale prices.

Yu Chan shops frequently at the Milan Station in Causeway Bay. She says she and her friends are buying discount luxury goods, in response to the economic downturn.

"Because, if for the same price you can get, I mean if for a more attractive price, you can get the same quality, why not?," said Yu.

Chan carries a moss green Lindy bag, which she bought at Milan Station. The Hermes French designer bag sells for more than $4,000, second-hand. If new, it would cost more than $6,000.

Luxury retailers are featured Hong Kong's main shopping districts. The city does not tax luxury items, such as jewelry, clothes and leather goods. For decades it has drawn tourists from around Asia looking for bargains.

Yet, the local economy is in recession for the first time in five years. Full-price shops are seeing flat or contracted sales. But some retail outlets that offer discount or gently-owned luxury goods are seeing an increase in business.

Tony Chan is chief marketing officer of Milan Station. He says since the economic crisis hit, the 10 Milan Station stores have seen a five-to-seven percent increase in business, compared to the same time a year before.

Chan says Hong Kong people like name-brand products, especially ones like Louis Vuitton and Gucci, which have easily recognizable monograms.

"They like the LV and Gucci most because they want to show it off," said Chan. "When you buy the handbag, I show you it's a high-end brand. It's easy for your sight. That's why."

Chan says the Milan Station, near Times Square in Causeway Bay, sometimes sells 100 bags per day. Prices start around $200 per bag.

In a nearby upscale shopping mall, on a recent Sunday afternoon, no customers shopped at two high-end boutiques that sell regular-price designer handbags.

Brand Off is another chain that sells second-hand designer handbags and accessories. Between January and March, both its Hong Kong stores saw increased sales, compared to last year.

Brand Off opened its second store last October and plans to open a third one later this year. The company also has 42 shops in Japan.

Customers from Japan and Taiwan frequently buy used designer handbags in Hong Kong to take back to their countries to re-sell.

Recently, Angie Liu bought 30 Bottega, Chanel and other second-hand designer bags at the Milan Station in Causeway Bay. She says she plans to sell them in her shop in Taipei.

Liu says her customers like both the second-hand and new-but-discounted designer bags.

Ellen McNally wrote the "Shop in Hong Kong" shopping guide. She says, although some Hong Kong people may not buy mid-price, second-hand handbags and clothing, they will buy used, high-end designer goods.

"That's a different thing," said McNally. "It appeals to this sort of obsession with top-end brands. People will spend thousands to have a handbag that sends out the message: 'I buy Fendi. I buy a big name brand.'"

McNally says second-hand designer goods "do not come cheap". Their regular prices may be close to $1,300 or more. Shops usually sell used items at 30 percent to 50 percent off their original price.

For less expensive, second-hand designer goods, McNally suggests people shop at the Pedder Building in Central.

The Oxfam Shops in Causeway Bay and Central also sell second-hand designer goods, which are donated to the nonprofit organization. But, unlike Milan Station and Brand Off, the Oxfam Shops also sell used books, CDs and home accessories.

Oxfam's Melanie Chan says its two shops have not had an increase in customers since the global economy contracted. Chan says those who do frequent the Oxfam Shops are spending less and are buying less than before.

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