Lady­bro’s tears shouldn’t spell end of tra­di­tional stores

China Daily (USA) - - BUSINESS - ByWANG YING in Shang­hai Con­tact the writer at wang_y­ing@ chi­

My “lady­bro” (rough ur­ban dic­tionary translation: a good pla­tonic fe­male friend) once told me that her big­gest dream was that one day she could af­ford ev­ery­thing she wanted at the land­mark Pa­cific Depart­ment Store on Shang­hai’s Mid­dle Huai­hai Road. But her fan­tasy turned to tears when that once-bril­liant depart­ment store, af­ter run­ning nearly two decades, fi­nally an­nounced it was to shut down on Mid-Au­tumn Fes­ti­val this year.

“It’ s ironic. Af­ter I fi­nally reach the goal and am get­ting ready for a mega shop­ping spree, it closes its doors for good,” she sighed. I get what she feels. It’s not just about the death of one fa­mous depart­ment store—and the pass­ing of youth — but touches on a deeper is­sue.

Al­most any lo­cals over 30 still re­calls the shock, the im­pact this depart­ment store had on our city, with its hip de­signs, glit­ter­ing coun­ters, eye-catch­ing prod­ucts and a wide se­lec­tion of big-boy brands. The store was such a hit in the lo­cal mar­ket that it even be­came a pre­ferred first-date meet­ing place in the early days.

For an­other friend of mine, her glow­ing mem­o­ries of the depart­ment store were the high prices, warm smiles and ser­vice and throb­bing crowds.

“A pair of Nike or adi­das sneak­ers would cost 400 to 500 yuan ($60-$75), about half of Shang­hai’s av­er­age in­come per month in 1997,” she said.

At 10 sharp ev­ery morn­ing, she re­called, the staff would make deep bows to wel­come the cus­tomers. And dur­ing your shop­ping, the sales­women would pro­vide a star ser­vice to help you choose the ideal goods.

In the sales sea­son, the throng­ing crowds had to jos­tle arms and shoul­ders just to make their way along the coun­ters, she said.

It was a stark and sad con­trast to what I saw in the fi­nal days of Pa­cific Depart­ment Store in July, when I could only spot a cou­ple of cus­tomers on its first floor.

A shop as­sis­tant at a makeup counter told me that al­though she was a new em­ployee, she could sense the gloomy fate await­ing the store. Be­side her, a col­league was nap­ping on the counter.

When I went down­stairs to the food court, the lights weren’t fully switched on and some shops were al­ready closed.

Many peo­ple are blam­ing the un­stop­pable rise of e-com­merce, lur­ing con­sumers away from tra­di­tional phys­i­cal stores. But if we delve a lit­tle deeper into the sub­ject, what should be blamed in­stead is stereo­typ­i­cal and short­sighted man­age­ment that be­came in­sen­si­tive to the chang­ing tastes of the pub­lic.

Just a stone’s throw away, K11 Art Mall is be­com­ing the new re­tail place to go since its lat­est ren­o­va­tion in early 2013.

The mall has kept sur­pris­ing me with its chang­ing ro­man­tic and artis­tic scene from sea­son to sea­son, as among other events it has played host to an ex­hi­bi­tion of the works of French im­pres­sion­ist painter Claude Monet and Span­ish sur­re­al­ist Sal­vador Dali.

Also on the Mid­dle Huai­hai Road, the two-storey glass­walled Apple Store is al­ways packed with peo­ple try­ing out its lat­est prod­ucts — and not only the long queues on the re­lease day of new prod­ucts.

Al­though the two re­tail­ers of­fer to­tally dif­fer­ent prod­ucts, cus­tomers are drawn by their unique­ness.

In there d-hot re­tail mar­ket, in­no­va­tive prod­ucts with rec­og­nized brand­ing are be­com­ing more and more im­por­tant. So im­por­tant, they could well prove to be the life­line of a store.

Re­tail­ers with­out a com­pet­i­tive edge can eas­ily be for­got­ten by the ex­pand­ing Chi­nese mid­dle class, a group of con­sumers with sharp, dis­cern­ing minds and re­fined tastes.

From Jan­uary to June, 68 out of the top 122 listed re­tail­ers in China re­ported shrink­ing rev­enue, a de­cline steeper than the year be­fore.

But some for­eign re­tail­ers still be­lieve in China, as a promis­ing mar­ket to en­ter. The Ga­leries Lafayette Beijing store re­ported a 13 per­cent year-onyear rise in first-half rev­enue.

That re­tailer did not ex­plain the de­tails be­hind its growth, but the ex­is­tence of the only phys­i­cal store for Bri­tish high street brand Top­shop and Top­man on the Chi­nese main­land, as well as pop­u­lar brands Self­Por­trait, So­phie Hulme and Philipp Plein, made it chic and unique to Chi­nese buy­ers.

Al­though my re­source­ful lady­bro still has other ways to get to her fa­vorite prod­ucts, it’s a pity she’s lost her dream store. But it is not the end of the road for qual­ity phys­i­cal re­tail out­lets— as long as they keep of­fer­ing keenly-pitched and well thought out prod­ucts and ex­ploit to their ad­van­tage their phys­i­cal pres­ence as a con­sid­er­ate and has­sle-free shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence.


A shop as­sis­tant car­ries away pack­aged goods on the clos­ing day of Pa­cific Depart­ment Store's out­let in Beijing in this file photo.

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