Welcome to Thing Mart

I am writing this only because Corina challenged me.

As a part of the research interns are doing in my office, a number of up-and-coming international companies are being analyzed.  One of them, a Chinese department store dubbed ‘Wu Mart’ seems a little familiar.  Its slogan?  ‘Every day low price; every way high quality.’  Even its classic sans-serif lettering seems strangely familiar:

As far as I can tell, the characters (Wu Mei) mean ‘Beautiful Stuff’.  So it’s not exactly an exactly Walmart knockoff.  I don’t think the Chinese or anyone else considers the Walmart stuff beautiful.  But it is cheap.  So why is Walmart not as successful as the burgeoning Wumart?

Probably it has something to do with quality.  Probably also it has something to do with the flexibility of the smaller Wumart to adapt to the local market.  Department store giants like Walmart and Carrefour aren’t willing to do so.  But another part has to do with nation-building and pride.  Just as we like to buy American to support local business, the Chinese are proud of their growing industries.  They want to buy Chinese.  They want to support a local commercial venture that regards a part of its mission as ‘establishing an everlasting retail chain that Chinese people love patronizing, and that mingles with their daily lives’.  With that kind of personal and national appeal, there’s no reason Wumart wouldn’t grow, if they continue to provide a quality product.

At the end of the day however, I am torn.  China may be learning from the West too fast.  While I support the growth of the economy and the rise of the standard of living, I worry about the commercialization of China’s values.  I’m not sure nation-building should be accomplished in support of a department store.  I’m worried that reasonable pride and a national feeling are clouding the potential for needless spending.  Economic growth should not necessarily be reflected as an increase in commercialism.  I hope that the growth of Wumart continues to be a growth of pride, one of buying what you need from a company that supports your values.

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