department stores

department stores
Stores in traditional China were usually specialized. Iron and copper shops sold iron and copper tools; gold and silver shops sold gold and silver jewellery; pickle and sauce shops sold pickles and sauces; fabric shops sold fabrics. The modern, multi-storey department store selling ‘a hundred different products’ (baihuo) was a retail practice imported from the West during the Republican era, found mostly in major commercial cities, and most notably in Shanghai. During the Maoist era all department stores were nationalized and incorporated into the planned-economy network of severely restricted distribution. Though the department stores were better stocked than other commercial venues, people still had to use vouchers to purchase essential items (e.g. fabric, food, oil) and mobilize connections to purchase items in short supply (e.g. bicycles, radios, TVs).
Salespeople during that era were notorious for rudeness towards consumers because of the stores’ monopoly over retail. The reform era ushered in the era of privatization, commerce and consumption, and department stores mushroomed. Most people still shop at state-owned, more conservative and cheaper department stores. But joint-venture and foreign-owned luxury department stores have come to set the trends for a fashionable lifestyle. During the summer, people love strolling around in department stores and take advantage of their free air-conditioning. Because of fierce competition among department stores and between department stores and the throngs of getihu (private household) shops, all department stores regularly stage promotion campaigns (huodong) to attract customers. Beginning in the 1990s, shopping malls have also entered the fray, the most prominent of which is the Oriental Plaza in Beijing developed by the Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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