Japan Invades Again
05 May 2003
I periodically do Google News searches for stories related to both China and Japan, since I’m interested in both countries. This week something interesting turned up which has some bearing on my own life. The topic is not extemely captivating — and it’s not life-threatening like SARS — but it’s relevant to China’s future. Japan is invading again. I’m talking about convenience stores, people.
For some time, Japan and the USA have had a tradition of small, brightly lit, immaculate, 24-hour convenience stores. China does not. Instead, there are just lots of tiny family-run shops everywhere. Usually, the storefront is also the family’s home’s front porch. When no one is buying, they’re typically in there watching TV. The stores are not 24 hours, but they’re often open late because the store stays open as long as the family is awake. Buying from these places is a more personal experience; there’s no big corporation involved, and you can feel it. Lately, however, this seems to be changing.
In the USA (as well as in quite a few places all over the world) it seems that 7 Eleven and Circle K reign supreme, but it is not so in Hangzhou. (I don’t know enough to speak for all of China. I think that maybe these American chain stores have a foothold in China’s biggest cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong.) The convenience stores that have begun to appear are ones like “C-Store,” a chain of indeterminate origin. This store has opened shop right on Zhoushan Dong Lu, outside ZUCC, on the north side of Hangzhou. Another similar 24-hour convenience store is opening this week right down the road from C-Store. These convenience stores are great because they’re 24 hours, they’re very clean, and they offer imported products that can sometimes be hard to find. At the C-store just down the road from ZUCC, we can now buy Corona beer and Japanese onigiri (rice ball wrapped in seaweed) — two products that are still impossible to find even at a lot of the larger grocery stores in Hangzhou.
I spoke of another Japanese invasion. Anyone who has spent any time in Japan will know these two convenience store chain giants: FamilyMart and Lawson. I have bought from both stores in Japan many times. My Japanese homestay brother Shingo used to work at FamilyMart. Their reach in Japan is pervasive. Now both companies have set their sights on China. [Story: FamilyMart. Story: Lawson.]
It’s going to start soon. Judging by the Chinese consumer reactions I’ve seen so far, I predict a victory for Japan this time.