Too similar? Shanghai markets boom raises concerns

Zhu Qing
National policies have revitalized offline consumption, leading to an increasing number of markets all over the city, but many Shanghai residents feel they are much too similar.
Zhu Qing
Too similar? Shanghai markets boom raises concerns

Two tourists enjoy drinks at the BFC Fengjing Night Market at the Bund Finance Center.

With the support of national policies promoting the "night economy" and "street stall economy," offline shopping has made a remarkable comeback, leading to an explosion of various markets since 2020.

According to "Market Exchange," a consulting platform by Red (Xiaohongshu), Shanghai alone had 30 to 40 markets of various sizes in July, primarily in the bustling commercial areas of Xuhui, Jing'an, Huangpu, and Pudong.

However, challenges such as repetitive content and inconsistency in format have become significant obstacles to their commercial growth.

Recently, a reporter from the Shanghai Morning Post explored numerous markets across Shanghai and found that the homogenization issue was particularly prominent in markets backed by large shopping centers.

Too similar? Shanghai markets boom raises concerns
Shanghai Morning Post

An accessory booth at the Makers' Market in the Shanghai Mart.

Shopping: Similar products and 'market assassins'

Markets are filled with woven items, sunglasses, paper fans, and canvas bags. However, many of these items share strikingly similar designs. Handicrafts, especially accessories, are particularly prone to homogenization.

During a visit to the Panlong Water Market in Qingpu District, it was noted that among the 30 or so stalls, three sold similar bracelets, earrings, and rings.

Similarly, The Market at Hongqiao Tiandi, operated by the same group, featured a comparable selection. About half of its 30 stalls offered various accessories, including bracelets, earrings, rings, and necklaces, often inlaid with pearls or gemstones.

The Makers' Market in the Shanghai Mart also had similar earrings, ear clips, necklaces, and bracelets.

Too similar? Shanghai markets boom raises concerns
Ti Gong

A post on Xiaohongshu complains about buying an accessory for 99 yuan at a Shanghai market that sells for just 9.9 yuan online.

Not all accessories in the market are reasonably priced, and some shoppers have fallen victim to "market assassins," meaning they were unexpectedly charged exorbitant prices.

Buying trinkets at the market is often an impulse decision, but many regret their purchases once they get home, feeling duped by the inflated prices.

"I bought a little ring for fun, told it was handmade original for 99 yuan, but found it for 9.9 yuan online at home," a Shanghai-based consumer shared on Red. A search on e-commerce platforms revealed the same product for just 9.9 yuan.

Are the jewelry items in the market truly original? How much are they really worth? These questions trouble many customers.

"The threads of these bracelets are similar, and so are the beads. We can't tell if they are truly original designs," said a resident browsing near Super Market. "Sometimes I still make impulse purchases, but every time I search online afterward, I feel I shouldn't have bought it."

Too similar? Shanghai markets boom raises concerns
Shanghai Morning Post

A fried skewer booth, a grilled skewer booth, and a Shanghai snack booth at a night market in Shanghai.

Dining: Three-piece set everywhere

"The markets in Shanghai have exploded in the past two or three years." said a seasoned foodie at the Fengjing Night Market. However, he couldn't decide what to eat, finding the options too similar.

BFC Fengjing Night Market at the Bund Finance Center is known for its high-quality offerings and variety. The 150-meter pedestrian street featured multiple stalls selling beef, lamb skewers, seafood barbecue, dumplings, noodles, fruit tea, coffee, and alcohol.

However, the foodie, who came on an empty stomach, was disappointed by the lack of unique choices.

"Now almost every market has a barbecue, beef, and lamb skewers and alcohol," the foodie summarized. He finally bought a bowl of black truffle crab rice, which he considered the most unique item in the market.

This phenomenon of many stalls but few unique delicacies is common in other food markets.

For instance, the ongoing Global Food Market at the Bund Finance Center features chain restaurants like Cai Lan Hong Kong Dim Sum and AnSanPang Korean Barbecue, which have already spread throughout Shanghai.

At the China-European Night Market and Sijing Night Market, the snacks were surprisingly consistent – seafood barbecue, beef and lamb skewers, grilled sausages, traditional Shanghai snacks, grilled rice cakes, stinky tofu, fruit fried yogurt, and cold noodles. The overlap rate was easily 60 percent.

Due to a lack of distinctive features, many residents who used to travel far to suburban night markets have changed their minds.

Many residents said that when they were children what attracted them to a market were the various frying sounds and shouting, or rich and novel things. Now, it's hard to find these in the market, they say. Many prefer less refined markets filled with down-to-earth street food.

Too similar? Shanghai markets boom raises concerns
Shanghai Morning Post

A ring toss game at a Shanghai market: customers win the item they encircle with a ring.

Entertainment: Traditional games fail to attract crowds

Many people enjoy markets for their open environment and relaxing interactive activities. Compared to food and handmade items, interactive games are easier to innovate, especially when combined with elements like intangible cultural heritage, pets, and sports.

However, traditional games like shooting and ring toss still dominate the scene.

The Shanghai Morning Post reporter observed shooting games at Panlong Tiandi and Lujiazui Center's limited-time markets. While some people visited the stalls, participation was low.

At a community business circle's limited-time market, the reporter saw a traditional 1.0 version of the shooting balloon game still standing strong, but even children, the original target audience, were not attracted.

The Post noted the growing number of markets reaching a "third-party chain operation" stage. Organizers who prioritize market quality now strictly control categories, products, and themes to create markets with distinctive highlights, attract crowds, and ensure high conversion rates. Conversely, when a market lacks unique features, it not only bores visitors but also deprives vendors of opportunities to showcase their products' uniqueness.

(The article is adapted from an article published on July 8 in Shanghai Morning Post.)

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