Supermarkets and China

In New Zealand I never used to mind going to the supermarket. In fact it was almost a daily occurance. Given that my personality leans torward the spontaneous, random and impulsive I would often devise dinner plans whilst staring blankly at my computer monitor from the depths of cubicle hell only to stop by the supermarket to pick up the necessary ingredients for that days craving.

My kitchen is somewhat better stocked these days than the bachelor flat era. Gone are the days of the musty smelling pantry filled with dryed out half eaten packets of pasta and a few lonely cans of beans; or the freezer containing nothing but a solid block of ice cubes and an exploded beer bottle, a reminder of a hangover long passed. Infact these days I could throw together a collection of (mainliy asian) dishes on a whim without ever having to visit a supermarket.

To be honest, if there is one thing in China that can take me from chilled out relaxoman to IHC its a visit to the local supermarket. I hate Chinese supermarkets. There I said it.

What makes the humble supermarket so different here than those back home in New Zealand? I guess the first and most obvious point is that the Supermarkets I have visited are almost always packed. China is one of the most populus countrys on earth and as it turns out its supermarkets are among the most densly frequented. Navigating a Chinese supermarket is like bumercars on crack. This leads me to¬† is the trolley etiqute of the Chinese supermarket going public. It’s no secret that queuing is a practice taken for granted in the west and that cultural differences dictate that in China different courtesies are afforded to average strangers than average strangers would expect in the west, however given the sheer magnatude of people in one building at any one time thisngs can get overwhelming very quickly. A frequent occurrance for me is to be pushed from behind by somebodies trolley because they need to look at something two feet ahead. I remedied this situation last week with a swift reverse pelvic thrust of the ass into the offending trolley cauing the driver the squeak as the handle bar lurched into her belly.

First there’s the fact that in many Supermarkets you need to go to different isles to pay for different categrories of goods. In Yantai, Shandong Province when I lived there, even at the sparkling new Walmart it was necessary to purchase many toiletries separately. “Luxury items” such as razor blades or deoderant, an item not previously easily accessible in Yantai were kept under lock and key. As a side note part of an international department store chain, Parkson Yantai, recently got sued bu Dunhill for scocking counterfeit merchandise and it is no secret that next door the RT Mart (Taiwanese Chain) was and probably still is selling counterfeit DVDs and electronics.

The Supermarket, a relatively new phenomenon in China has meant a number of things for Chinese consumers. The first being that with economies of scale supermarkets have brought better prices and greater choice than traditionally availiable. Consumers no longer have to bargain to get a deal like they did in the wet markets and “Mom and Pop” neibourhood stores. I would argue that with average incomes on the rise bargaining over one or two kuai is becoming less of an issue for middle class Chinese families. This of course has led to problems in China, such as the other day when I went to China Mobile to put some credit on my mobile account, the usually empty China Mobile store was bursting at the seams with geriatric ayis all pushing to the front in a typical chinese non-queue. China Mobile was giving away cooking oil with every topup of over RMB100.

Ofcourse this being China, this kind of bargain mentality has had more serious implications. Last year 3 shoppers were killed (yes killed) in a Chongching Carrefour supermarket during a crush for bargain price cooking oil, leading the central government to put a ban on time limited promotions.

The rate of development in China is phenomenal (cliche alert) In Suzhou the rate in which new housing blocks are being constructed never ceases to blow my mind. Occupancy rates aside, more and more Chinese are living in areas that don’t have a wet market in close proximity, which brings be to another benefit of the Supermarket, convenience, giving people a central point to do all of their shopping. But I beg to differ without living above one, there is nothing convenient about the Chinese supermarket configuration.

I guess it’s no secret that despite adopting western commercial ideas and the entrance of a number of global players in the industry China is still years off providing the type of service levels and convenience to please anyone but the bargain-hungry. For the time being I’d still rather rub Sichuan peppers on my crotch than visit my local supermarket.

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One Response to “Supermarkets and China”

  1. wangbo says:

    I try to time my supermarket visits for about 12:30 in the afternoon. Everybody else is getting lunch or taking a nap, meaning I can do my shopping in relative peace and quiet. “Relative” is, of course, the key word.

    One point though: At least here in Beijing, wet markets are still your best option for fresh fruit and veg. The supermarkets may be more “convenient”, but their prices in that department are actually higher. Same thing for your regular beers, cheapo Tsingtao and Snow and so on.

    And considering how inflation is affecting prices of staple goods like pork and cooking oil, I can’t blame the ayis for charging your local China Mobile for their free oil. At New Years, on the way up to the in-laws’ place, we stopped at one of the township convenience stores for a couple of kilos of pork and a flagon of cooking oil. 110 kuai for that! And that’s out in the countryside!

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