Consumption craze drives burgeoning Chinese economy

By Wendy Min Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/6 15:08:40

Photo: IC

The first Costco shop on the Chinese mainland opened in Shanghai after two years in the making. On the day of the opening, crowds of people busy hand-grabbing supplies and endless lines were what everyone saw.

Sure, there is always a status thing attached to where you shop, what you wear etc. The level and style of your consumption, or your body shape, equates to how much income you have. Some might say that obesity means you are uneducated and poor and shopping at Costco is great if you are frugal. Um ok... Regardless of how people will perceive you and what social class they will slot you into, this craze reflects one thing: If its products are ok and the prices are affordable, the shop will attract consumers. Keeping them engaged and maintaining loyalty is another story.

Forget about a SWOT analysis of Costco, this reception is a good start for the company and perhaps has slapped in the faces of two groups of people. One is the US president and folks who think that business could and should pull out of a market just because you are having a tough time with it. The second are people who like to forcibly add the label of "traitors" onto people who are buying foreign products. 

Understandably, some will shake their head and say "How can you buy American products as a Chinese?" Well - in this globalized world with multilateral trade, everyone can buy goods and services that are manufactured elsewhere. Attaching nationalism to simple goods does little to change the situation.

Introducing foreign products at a reasonable price and bringing the Western model to China and vice versa is nothing new. As long as the consumers have choices and access to good products and services, there will be demand - especially if you throw in the usual marketing tricks of offering discounts and memberships. How this will be sustained and whether new competitors will take over and kill off Costco or force a merger and acquisition is something for us to watch and also an organic process in this vicious world of business. 

Companies have to strive hard to capture the attention of Chinese consumers and receive their approval. China's middle class is still seeing steady increase despite the overall macro environment. 17 years ago, China's middle class was only 4 percent of the population. Ten years later that number is over 420 million or 31 percent. Similarly, urban population went up from 19 percent in 1980 to 58 percent in 2017. China's young consumers are also a formidable force - right up there with the aunties and uncles. My only concern is that they seem to spend more than they save.

Countries should remain open and be willing to trade with one another. Business should be normal and it is a shame that the US-launched trade war with China is still continuing. Although I understand that the US is frustrated at their imports exceeding exports, let's not forget that in terms of services, China is the one with deficit. There are many sectors attached to trade and given how consumers go after similar things, we should embrace products regardless of where they are manufactured since a long supply chain spread over many countries is behind the production.  

The author is a freelance writer. She was born in China, raised in Australia, educated in China, Australia and France.


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