Bustling shopping centers point to China's consumption growth potential

Xinhua
An 80-meter-high artificial waterfall has become the latest crowd-puller at the Grandview Mall in the southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou.
Xinhua

An 80-meter-high artificial waterfall has become the latest crowd-puller at the Grandview Mall in the southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou, as the grand shopping complex receives a huge number of avid shoppers during the Spring Festival holiday.

Xie Meng, CEO of Grandview Group, said the mall had planned for the launch of the waterfall and a series of festive events and cultural activities well ahead of the Chinese New Year, in view of the local retail market's strong rebound.

"We have been expecting huge crowds with the general containment of the COVID-19 epidemic in China," Xie said.

The Tianhe Road business circle, where the Grandview Mall and 15 other shopping centers are located, received nearly 6 million visitors from Thursday to Saturday, the first three days of the seven-day Spring Festival holiday. The figure is close to the number of visitors the area received before the epidemic.

The bustling sight is indicative of the "V-shaped" recovery of China's domestic consumption. The country's retail sales of consumer goods grow 4.6 percent year on year in the fourth quarter of 2020, in contrast to a 3.9-percent fall during the whole year.

A recent report by the China General Chamber of Commerce predicted a yearly increase of more than 10 percent in China's total retail sales this year, in view of the country's firming economy and huge consumption market.

UPGRADE & REBOUND

For Li Mengjie, a Guangzhou resident and a frequent visitor to the Grandview Mall, a packed shopping center during the Spring Festival holiday seemed almost surreal.

"Last year, my family and I basically spent the holiday at home, considering the grim epidemic situation," Li said. "Everything seems to have returned to where it was during the pre-epidemic days, except for the epidemic prevention protocols at the shopping centers like wearing mask and health code checks."

In Li's view, the Grandview Mall has risen from the epidemic stronger, with more entertainment facilities like an aquarium, a cultural museum, and a botanical garden.

"The shopping mall is now more like an amusement park. I can do all sorts of fun stuff here all day," she said.

Shopping centers across China have been integrating more forms of entertainment with traditional shopping and dining businesses to attract more customers and unleash their spending power.

In Guangzhou's Beijing Road business circle, another popular shopping site in the city, a large-scale upgrade program had been completed before the Spring Festival. Interactive lighting equipment was installed on the shopping centers' walls and unmanned vending carts deployed on the roads.

A futuristic robot-operated restaurant, which has opened in the area recently, has also become a hit with a growing number of diners.

Xian Qiuxian, deputy general manager of a shopping mall in the area, said they have been receiving customers till midnight since the mall recently started to operate round the clock on weekends, which "was unimaginable in the past."

Zhang Ximing, a researcher with the Zhejiang Academy of Commerce, said China's offline retailing, one of the industries worst hit by COVID-19, has basically shaken off the influence of the epidemic thanks to the country's effective epidemic prevention and control measures.

"Chinese customers have restored their confidence and are attaching more importance to personal development and enjoyment in consumption. They are willing to spend more on education, entertainment, medical care and other immersive experiences," Zhang said.

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

China's brick-and-mortar retailers have ratcheted up their digital transformation efforts during the Spring Festival shopping season as e-commerce continues to reshape the country's retail landscape.

The country's online retail sales of goods posted a robust growth of 14.8 percent to reach 9.8 trillion yuan (about 1.5 trillion US dollars) in 2020, topping the world for eight consecutive years, according to data by the Ministry of Commerce.

In east China's Zhejiang Province, an e-commerce heartland that hosts Internet giant Alibaba, a growing number of shopping centers and department stores are crossing into the digital world to vie for a piece of the booming market.

Intime Department Store, which owns several high-end stores in Zhejiang's provincial capital Hangzhou, allows customers to place orders on its smartphone app and have the goods delivered to their doorstep within an hour during the holiday.

Alibaba's fresh-food chain Freshippo has also continued to integrate its offline and online businesses since the run-up to this year's Spring Festival.

Data by the company showed the sales of partially-prepared foods and ready-to-eat meals on its online platform have increased more than 400 percent year on year since January.

"The digital transformation of shopping centers and other brick-and-mortar stores can help them make better use of their advantage in providing an enriching experience to the customers and help further unlock the growth potential of China's domestic consumption," said Zheng Yongbiao, deputy head of the Hangzhou municipal commerce bureau.

(Xinhua reporters Deng Ruixuan and Zhang Xuan contributed to the story.)

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