Thursday, December 31, 2009

Shanghai's Last Madness of 2009

by Maple Xu, guest blogger

[in translation]
Shanghai, Dec. 31 - Shanghai's large department stores have the tradition of a year-end white sale. On December 31st, all the stores stay open until 2:00 am. This is the day when those usually thrifty residents swarm to stores and become extraordinarily cooperative with the commercial circle, forging a shopping rush unto the small hours. I've heard that the day's shopping atmosphere is so powerful that you can't help but buy a big pile of useless goods and leave them rotting at home.

It was that day of the year again. As a visitor I didn't have better things to do, so I convinced a Shanghai friend to go watch the fun. Our target was Yaohan (八佰伴), the biggest mall in Pudong.

At a little past 10 am, still a mile away from Yaohan, the street was already full of crowds carrying big and small shopping bags. Everyone looked so jubilant as if each had just won the lottery. I did not walk in Yaohan myself; I was swept along by the human flood. Inside, long lines were everywhere, even for elevators. It was getting hard to breath in this usually bright and spacious mall.

Struggles on the escalator (photo by Maple Xu)

My friend commented, "Just a few days ago they feared H1N1 and wore masks to supermarkets. Look at the thousands and thousands of people here. How come no one displays the least bit of fear today?"

I said, "Well, it goes to show Chinese people are indeed rich. The way they rush to shop is like buying things for free."

"On the contrary," my Shanghai friend corrected, "this shows how poor people still are. But even poor people want fashion. Especially in an international metropolis like Shanghai where people judge others solely on appearance, those poor residents who would eat one less meal to buy one more piece of fashion have been waiting all year for today."

I nodded, "Right. I heard that many came yesterday to locate what they wanted, so as soon as the doors open today they can rush in to grab those things right away."

My friend tittered, "My company has one couple that is even more ridiculous. Every year, on this day, they take a half day off from work, both husband and wife. The wife is responsible for grabbing goods; the husband is responsible for waiting in the cashier’s line, their young daughter is responsible for watching their bags. This is called increasing efficiency."

I wondered how much advantage one could possibly obtain from this white sale as we struggled through the crowds. I saw something I liked, a down winter jacket, priced for 1599 yuan (US$235). No discount, that was disappointing. On the other hand, for each 500 yuan spent you could get a 300 yuan coupon, which again could be used with no discount apply. Good deal? Bad deal? I was momentarily confused.

My experienced friend told me this jacket had a 10% discount on a normal day. "Buy it today you get a coupon to spend without discounts. Sounds like a good deal, doesn't it? However, because most things have discounts on a normal day, today you'll have to spend 900 on 600 yuan worth. Not such a good deal to me after all."

I thought about it and suggested, "How about I use the coupon to buy something that normally doesn't have a discount anyway?"

"What's that?" my friend said, "Lets go see."

"TeenieWeenie," I told him. I've always loved the brand, but because their price is high and they never offered a discount, I haven't bought it so far.

We again pushed through the crowds and, after lots of struggling, approached the counter of TeenieWeenie. Oh my God! On a normal day this counter would have been deserted, now it was out of control! There was no room for me to even take out my hand, let alone selecting clothing. Everyone pasted on everyone else's back like sandwich biscuits, and police were present to maintain order. The cashier lines were long and winding.

The new clothing in people's hands looked completely wrinkled, as if just taken out from the bottom of a storage room. The style was at least several years old. Someone behind the crowd shouted at a staffer, "I can't reach the counter! Please help! I need a different size!" The staffer showed a cold face: "Whatever size you have. It's not a time to be picky." Some customers started to curse, some screamed about a toe being stepped on.

In the chaos my friend did not forget to educate me: "Now you see? Today is the glorious time for the brand sellers to clean out their stock ballast. You thought your coupon could buy 900 yuan worth of things? Those old stock aren’t worth even 300."

I dragged my friend to run away – but of course you couldn't run, you could only push.

"It is a trap that requires many willing people to dig for themselves," my friend said. 

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