Malls are crowded with holiday shoppers from Mexico
By Angela Kocherga — 2/27/2018
El Paso Border
EL PASO — Malls are crowded with holiday shoppers from Mexico like Cesar Robles, who drove three hours from Chihuahua City with his family hoping to find sale prices.
"I'm looking for clothes for the kids," said Robles, 42, who was in Dillard's with his 9- and 12-year-old sons and their grandmother. For the Robles and other families from Mexico, it's a holiday tradition to make a road trip to U.S. border cities like El Paso for a shopping spree that runs through Three Kings Day, Jan. 6. And the benefits extend beyond malls. Families stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and attend sporting and other entertainment events.
For years, tens of thousands of Mexican shoppers have been a presence in Texas, but they slipped under the radar because tracking their effect is difficult. Along the border, local and state governments and retailers haven't known exactly how many visitors cross to shop or how often — especially high-end Mexican shoppers with deep pockets who pay with cash.
Last year, economic development councils in the Rio Grande Valley and local media companies in a public-private partnership paid for a cross-border study by Nielsen, a consumer research company that studies consumer buying and media habits. The survey for the first time measured consumer behavior, including buying and media habits on both sides of the border.
"It's really hard to quantify or qualify the impact of the [Mexican] shoppers. You look at our area, our income levels and you look at the sales in our region and sometimes they're through the roof," said Jason Hilts, president and CEO of the Brownsville Economic Development Council.
The council partnered with other area cities and media companies in the Rio Grande Valley to help pay for a survey of consumers from the Mexican border cities Matamoros and Reynosa. Many more shoppers drive to the border from Monterrey, home to some of Mexico's wealthiest families.
"Sunrise Mall here [in Brownsville] is one of their top 10 producers for revenue per square foot," said Hilt. The Rio Grande Valley is home to some of the highest volume retail space in the country because of visitors from Mexico.
Nielsen found that frequent visitors took an average of 48 trips in the past year, or almost one visit per week, and 36 percent of Mexican visitors to the Rio Grande Valley bought a vehicle.
El Paso is considering a study of its own focused on the impact of shoppers from its sister city Ciudad Juarez.
"Anybody who lives here realizes that, but it's anecdotal evidence. Having this type of study would provide something concrete," said David Stout, El Paso County commissioner from Precinct 2.
County commissioners in El Paso approved $5,000 for a Nielsen study in September, and Stout is looking for media, economic development and retail partners to help pay for the remainder of the $100,000 needed for the survey.
"The shoppers who come over from Mexico are very important, especially for taxing entities. We rely heavily on the sales tax revenue we generate," said Stout. To attract international visitors, Texas allows shoppers who have Mexican passports or other international identification documents to get a tax rebate, but only a fraction take advantage of the tax-free shopping offer.
The Fountains at Farah in El Paso attracts customers in Mexico with billboards in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City. The shopping center has an ice rink and events during the holiday to appeal to families.
Some of Texas' poorest counties border some of Mexico's largest cities, where incomes on average are higher than those in most of Mexico. A weak peso-dollar exchange rate has stopped some budget-conscious Mexican shoppers from crossing as often to buy in Texas, but wealthy families keep coming.
"They don't even look at the prices," said Jose Rodriguez, 30, a sales associate at upscale store in El Paso. Robles said recently a couple from Chihuahua went on a $2,000 shopping spree, "just picking stuff like nothing."
The Fountains at Farah appeals to shoppers with billboards in Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. An electronic billboard is strategically located near the Bridge of the Americas in Juarez where a captive audience of motorists waits in line to cross into the U.S.
The shopping center also uses mobile phone advertising to reach customers in Mexico via social media.
"When you put a store in El Paso, you're not just selling to the good folks of El Paso, but you're also selling to the surrounding region," said Gio Silva, marketing and events director for the Fountains at Farah.
"We look for brand names," said Salvador Quiroz, 47, a businessman from Delicias, Chihuahua. He was buying gifts at a Dillard's store in El Paso with his wife, daughter, son and a niece.
"The economy of El Paso and the border depends on us, the Mexicans who come shopping here."
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