Nigerian businessman Godwin Patrick took a three-week holiday to the U.K. this month to visit his British-based cousins. It wasn’t the only reason for his trip.
“I’m here to shop,” the 38-year-old said on London’s Oxford Street, clutching bags from Marks & Spencer Group Plc (MKS) and Associated British Foods Plc’s (ABF) Primark containing underwear and trousers for himself, and dresses for his family in Lagos.
Patrick is a regular visitor to London, where retailers are fully accustomed to Nigerian shoppers. The African country was the fourth-biggest contributor to overseas tax-free shopping in the U.K. last year, behind only China, Russia and the Middle East, according to tourism services providerGlobal Blue U.K. A growing Nigerian population in the U.K. and more-frequent direct flights between the countries has led to an influx of visitors who have more to spend because of a booming oil-driven economy.
“Nigerian travelers are very particular to the U.K.; you’d never see them as a top-10 nationality in other markets,” said Richard Brown, vice-president of Global Blue U.K., which runs a network that enables foreign shoppers to claim back value-added tax. In total, Nigerians “spend more as a total business than Americans do,” he said. Visitors from the U.S. are the sixth-biggest shopping group.
Retailers in London are particularly dependent on overseas shoppers. Foreigners account for a third of spending in the English capital’s shopping district of Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street and will spend more than 2 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) this year, according to the New West End Co., which represents 600 retailers in the area.
Spending by Nigerians in U.K. shops rose 32 percent last year, according to Global Blue, which declined to disclose their expenditure. Visitors from the West African country accounted for 6 percent of the U.K.’s foreign retail spending in March, the researcher said.
Unlike mostly luxury-seeking Russian and Middle Eastern tourists, Nigerian visitors also want to spend their money at mass-market chains such as Marks & Spencer and Debenhams Plc, (DEB)where they can obtain better quality products than at home.
“There is a misconception that they just come here for middle- or lower-value items, but they shop across all brands from mass-market high street right up to department-store and luxury brands as well,” said Global Blue’s Brown.
Nigerian visitors spend an average of about 450 pounds per individual transaction, compared with more than 1,000 pounds by Middle Eastern customers, Global Blue said.
At Debenhams’ store on London’s Oxford Street, Nigerians provide the biggest source of overseas spending as they seek out perfume and moisturizer gift sets, British-themed products like a 20-pound union-jack printed teapot, clothing and shoes, according to spokeswoman Ruth Attridge.
Multilingual signs advertising discounts at the store are printed not only in Chinese and Arabic, but also Hausa, a Nigerian language.
The popularity of the U.K. as a shopping destination for Nigerians partly reflects the growth in the number of people from the country living in Britain. About two-thirds of shoppers are on holiday or visiting family and friends, while a third are traveling for business, according to Global Blue.
The U.K. Office for National Statistics estimates that 174,000 Nigerians lived in the U.K. between July 2010 and June 2011, the ninth-largest nationality. That’s an increase of 34,000 compared with three years earlier.
Daily flights from Lagos by airlines such as British Airways Plc are also fueling shopper journeys. The London-based carrier allows Nigerian passengers an additional 23-kilogram suitcase compared with the majority of its flights. Air Nigeria plans to start flights to London’s Gatwick airport this month.
Wealth among Nigeria’s elite has increased since the turn of the century as the former British colony has become Africa’s top oil producer, spurring economic expansion. The country’s gross domestic product grew 7.7 percent in the fourth quarter year over year, according to the Abuja-based National Bureau of Statistics, compared with the prior quarter’s 7.4 percent gain.
While the African nation may be better off than before it gained its independence from Britain in 1960, its shopping facilities aren’t of a standard to compare with the U.K.
“In Nigeria, there is very little formal retail,” said Siemon Scamell-Katz, global consulting director at researcher TNS. “So in terms of retail, Primark and Marks & Spencer is quite something if you haven’t come across much retail before.”
That’s true of Patrick, who said it’s “the quality and the pricing” of London’s stores that keep him coming back.
“We don’t have the same standard of retailing,” he said.