In Los Angeles County, 14.5% of the population in 2012 was Asian, not including mixed-race residents. Statewide, the figure is 13.9%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The county's Asian American population is the largest in the nation as well as its fastest growing, according to a September report from advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles. The number of Asian Americans in the area surged 20% between 2000 and 2010, according to the report; by comparison, the Latino population grew 11%.

Converting the demographic into loyal shoppers could prove a boon to retailers trying to shake off a year of middling retail sales. The slowness has continued into January.

"The latest week's sales were battered by abnormally warm temperatures in the West and bitter cold and snow in the East," Michael Niemira, chief economist of the International Council of Shopping Centers, said in a statement this week.

The "unevenness" in sales caused the trade group to scale back its forecast for January revenue growth to 3% year over year from a previous estimate that was as high as 3.5%.

Many retail centers have worked for years to attract Chinese shoppers. Santa Monica Place is currently looking to hire a Mandarin-speaking concierge.

Last year, Desert Hills Premium Outlets, Ontario Mills and the Outlets at Orange partnered on a Snaking through Southern California initiative to mark the Year of the Snake and to attract Chinese shoppers. Westfield Santa Anita in Arcadia threw its first-ever Lunar New Year festival in 2013, with a 120-foot dragon installation above its indoor carousel.

The Beverly Center boasts of its Mandarin-speaking employees and its Chinese-language directories and maps. The mall put a page on its website dedicated to international tourism, written in seven languages including Mandarin, and in August it launched a profile on Sina Weibo, a microblogging service in China.

"As we monitor who's really coming and shopping, supporting these local retail markets, it's become apparent that it's worth taking notice of the Chinese in particular," said Barnes, the general manager.

tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

Twitter: @tiffhsulatimes