Chinese consumers have a herd mentality

By Furkan Erdogan Source:Global Times Published: 2016-4-10 18:03:30

Illustrations: Lu Ting/GT

As far as I have observed during my seven years in Shanghai, Chinese seem to have a herd mentality when it comes to buying stuff. Recent news about seven-hour-long queues for qingtuan, a special green dumpling sold only during Qingming Festival in Shanghai, was one such instance. Certainly nobody needed to buy these dumplings, but because other people were waiting in the lines, it made them want to wait in line with them.

It was not the first time I've seen people in Shanghai waiting in unnecessarily long lines. Strolling along Wukang Road last weekend, there was one snack store with more than 30 people queuing up for ice cream, while just down the street a bakery had an even longer line of people. Elsewhere on Wukang Road were shops selling similar foodstuffs but with no customers.

A herd mentality drives people to do exactly what everyone else is doing without question, and here in trendy Shanghai one often encounters numerous such herds. If there are hundreds of people standing outside the Apple store on Nanjing Road East waiting for the latest digital gadget, then you can be sure a hundred more people will come stand in that same line - not out of necessity but only because they want to be like everyone else.

Sneaker stores are another booming business in Shanghai. Every weekend you can see huge lines of wealthy Chinese teenagers standing in front of the Nike and Adidas stores along Huaihai Road Middle for the latest shoe. These kids definitely don't need a pair of 5,000 yuan sneakers - most don't even play basketball - they just want it so they can share a picture of their purchase on their social media.

Many restaurants around Shanghai also have this problem. There could be five nearly identical noodle or dumpling shops, for instance, along a boulevard, but only one of them will have a line of people waiting to eat at it. All the others will be virtually empty, not because one is better or worse than the next, but because Chinese customers only want to eat where everyone else is eating.

It's possible that the famines and social upheavals of the 20th century had something to do with the herd mentality of modern Chinese. Having experienced scarcity and struggle, they now feel that they must always be at the front of the line and get something before someone else can get it. It's a kind of Survival of the Fittest with Chinese characteristics - meaning that even if you don't get those green dumplings or smartphones, you won't die - you'll just lose face, which in China is worse.

The same logic is, unfortunately, also applied by Chinese parents to their children. Constantly pushing them to be at the front of their class and the best student in their school because, older Chinese mistakenly believe, they'll have a better life. Even though most middle-class Chinese millennials have never grown up needing or struggling, their parents nonetheless continue to perpetuate life as one long hard struggle: everyone else has a big salary and nice car, so you must have one too, at all costs!

There's no question that China is overcrowded. Shanghai, with 24 million residents, is especially congested, so I get that supply and demand is a serious issue here and that waiting in long lines is sometimes a necessity. But Chinese people need to ask if the things they are waiting for - snacks and cell phones and sneakers - are really worth their precious time. Just because everyone else is buying it doesn't mean you need to buy it too. Instead of following the herd, try making your own path in life.

The opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai

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