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Tesco turns Chinese in Qingdao 乐购青岛走向本土化

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January 10 – Qingdao

Tesco, oddly enough, was the first supermarket I visited when I arrived in China in June 2008. The store inside the Luwan stadium was next to the block of serviced apartments where we stayed in our first month.

It was a dire store. The vegetables looked limp and old, the meat gave off a strange smell, the layout was indecipherable and no one seemed to be buying much. I quickly gave up on Tesco’s China strategy and never went back.

Until last weekend, when I arrived in Qingdao and saw the new Tesco hypermarket and the shopping centre that Tesco has built around it. It seems the supermarket giant has got serious. It invested £500 million (5.4 billion yuan) in China last year and plans to spend even more next year.

The money is going on a series of 23 giant shopping centres, some of which have blocks of apartments and cinemas attached. Tesco is going into the property development game (hohum, sometimes I think this is the only game to play in China). This way, it can have its pick of sites for its stores and lay them out a bit better than that store in Luwan (which is being renovated, apparently).

One Tesco executive tells me that they are opening four more shopping centres in the south in November, December, January and then February. The cinemas, in particular, should do well. “In the US, there is a cinema for every 400 people,” he says. “In China, there is one for every 180,000, so you can see there’s a growth potential”. The rush to open these stores is because WalMart and Carrefour are far ahead of Tesco.

The new Tesco store itself is impressive. It spans two floors and is laid out to focus on the core items that Chinese shoppers look out for: cooking oil, eggs, pork, toilet paper, rice etc. However, it also stocks a mind-boggling array of produce. Tesco says it has 2,000 suppliers for the store, who make 800 direct deliveries each week. The logistics of running that many suppliers is mind-boggling and Tesco is busy building distribution hubs so that it can mastermind its supplies better.

The “marketplace” is much cleaner than in the old Tesco, with fewer iffy smells, but retains all the chaos that Tesco insists makes Chinese shoppers happy. The store refers to the shouting and shoving as “theatre”. And there is one innovation that has come from Korea, apparently. A fine mist is constantly sprayed over the vegetables from overhead, making them look fresh and just out of the fridge. The system appears to have been rigged up, shanzhai-style, from a length of drainpipe painted green and I imagine it won’t be long before it is replicated across stores elsewhere.

The boss, Ken Towle, has a remarkable command of every price and every product he stocks. He discusses the elasticity of demand for eggs, which are sold loose in the store and sometimes decanted into plastic bags for customers who just want the liquid to take away. He says that a tiny fluctuation in the price of eggs can spark mad rushs. A 20 per cent price drop, he adds, would cause a stampede in store (the store is already packed out – the police restricted the entrances but around 60,000 shoppers were expected to pass through).

Meanwhile, the store has also reached out to the local community. Through the neighbourhood committees, Tesco invited locals to do their morning exercises in the forecourt, set up a CD player, handed out warm coats and also hot drinks. This sort of thoughtfulness costs nothing and generates a lot of goodwill.

It is early days, and Tesco clearly doesn’t have the guanxi in Qingdao to fill its shopping centre with the big name shops. Much of the mall looked like it had been filled with mom-and-pop shops that were happy to upgrade to shiny new premises. The only really recognisable Chinese brands on offer were Li Ning and Erke. It will be interesting to see if the bold strategy works though, and with the speed Tesco is expanding, it shouldn’t take long before the results are evident.

1月10日,青岛

很巧合的是,我2008年6月第一次来中国的时候,去的第一家超市就是乐购。那家乐购在上海卢湾体育馆内,靠近我们最初的一个月居住的酒店式公寓旁边。

那家乐购环境实在糟糕。蔬菜看起来蔫蔫的,不新鲜,肉类散发着奇怪的味道。店面布局混乱,也没什么人买东西。我对乐购在中国的发展完全失望了,决定不当回头客。

直到上个周末,我去了青岛,参观了那里新开的乐购大超市还有周围乐购自建的购物中心。看来乐购这个超市巨头开始认真起来了。去年乐购在中国总共投资了五亿英镑(合五十四亿人民币),明年预计还有更大笔的投资。

这五亿英镑主要花在了23家巨型购物中心上,有些中心甚至配有公寓和影院设施。乐购开始涉足地产开发项目了(真是的,有时我觉得这是中国唯一可参与的游戏),这样乐购就可以选择开店的地址,进行合理的店面布局,至少要比卢湾的那家强(不过显然那家也新近装修过)。

乐购的一位经理告诉我十一月,十二月,一月,二月里,乐购要在中国南部城市连续开四家购物中心。特别是影院,应该生意会不错。“在美国,每400人就有一家影院,”他说道,“在中国,是每十八万人才有一家影院,这个发展的空间可想而知了。”乐购加快开店的原因是沃尔玛和家乐福已经远远走在了前头。

青岛的新乐购超市本身就很引人注目。这家店一共有两层楼,店面醒目位置摆设是中国消费者关注常用的物品,食用油,鸡蛋,猪肉,纸巾,大米等等。然尔,店里也有一些令人费解的系列商l品。乐购有两千左右的供应商,每周会接收800多趟的直线送货。经营如此数量众多的供应商本身是令人吃惊费解的,乐购目前也忙着筹建运销配给中心,方便以后总店的统一策划。

比起旧店来,新店的“菜市场”那块要干净的多,也没有可疑的味道,但还是一如既往的混乱嘈杂,乐购坚持认为中国客户会比较喜欢这样的买菜环境。乐购把这些叫嚷,还有推搡称为“有戏剧色彩”。这家新店采用了一项来自韩国的新设施。蔬菜制品的上空不间断地喷洒着水汽,一层薄雾笼罩其上,这样蔬菜看起来很新鲜,像是刚从冰箱里取出来一样。不过这个设备看起来像是做工粗糙的山寨产品,用的是一段漆成绿色的排水管。大概不要多久,就会被其它超市借鉴仿制吧。

新店老板Ken Towle对每件货品和其价格都了如指掌。他和我们谈到了鸡蛋的弹性需求。鸡蛋在店里是散装卖的,有时甚至打散放到塑料袋里,给客户直接拎回家。他说鸡蛋价格的一点点波动就会造成疯狂的抢购。价格下降20%的话,甚至能导致店里的踩踏事件(当时超市里已经人满为患,有警卫守在门口,还有六万多人要进来)。

同时,乐购也开始和当地的社区交流互动。通过街道居委,乐购邀请当地居民来超市的前广场晨练,会放置一个CD机,发放大衣,甚至送上热饮。这种细致周到的服务没什么成本可言,却会为超市赢来宝贵的信誉好评。

青岛的乐购刚刚开业,显然还没来得及和当地政府打好关系,将品牌商店引进到乐购购物中心来。目前购物中心大部分被小商小贩占据了,乐购自然希望能将其升级成靓丽闪光的商铺群。目前同意进驻的稍具知名度的中国品牌只有李宁和鸿星尔克。我倒很期盼看看乐购这一大胆扩张策略能否顺利实施,以乐购目前的开店速度来看,应该不用多久就能看出效果了。

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Written by malcolmmoore

January 13, 2010 at 7:29 pm

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