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外国零售商在华举步维艰,但开市客有望杀出血路

Nisha Gopalan, 彭博社 2019年09月02日

开市客上海门店开在郊区,很适合愿意大批量采购的自驾购物者。

开市客在上海郊区开设的第一家中国门店迎来了开门红,前景可观。图片来源:VCG/VCG/Getty Images

看着开市客在上海开业当天大批顾客涌入的视频,你可能会想,为什么人们这么兴奋?毕竟,之前的众多外国零售商都在中国败走滑铁卢,每家在刚进入中国时都满怀希望,然而挣扎多年之后只能黯然撤退。

家乐福在中国经营了20多年,今年6月还是卖掉了80%业务。乐购在2013年将中国业务并入了一家合资企业,麦德龙则正在为其中国业务寻找买家。

但跟大多数零售商相比,总部位于华盛顿州伊萨夸的开市客更有理由相信自己可以破解魔咒。

欧盟中国商会于上周三表示,中国正计划将社会信用体系扩展到企业,合规成本会因此提升,可能导致一些公司破产。与此同时,网购正在从实体零售商手中夺取越来越多的市场份额。

尽管如此,上周二开市客第一家中国门店在上海开业时还是被挤爆了。其中当然有开业首日打折的影响,但火爆很可能不是昙花一现。

缅因大龙虾和铂金包都有得卖

中国的消费市场变化无常,零售业竞争激烈,利润非常薄。不过,看起来开市客精心选择了细分市场。上海门店开在郊区,很适合愿意大批量采购的自驾购物者,比如购买30包一大盒的曲奇或200盎司(约合6升)一瓶的洗涤剂。量贩式售货有助于开市客通过打折吸引顾客。

类似模式在人口密集的上海中心地区是行不通的,因为市中心大多数居民都住在狭小的公寓里,乘坐公共交通工具出行。不过,只要开市客能够打入合适的郊区市场,就没有什么问题。开市客在上海闵行区的新店停车位多达1200个,比其他任何门店都要多。

会员制是开市客向消费者推销的关键因素。加入付费俱乐部能增加排他性氛围,这可能很合中国购物者的口味,而且店里还能买到缅因大龙虾、蓝鳍金枪鱼和铂金包等高端产品。上周二开业时,顾客只需支付199元(约合28美元)的优惠年费就能成为开市客会员,以后则将提高至299元(约合41.73美元)。

开市客已经证明复制仓储量贩模式可行,在日本、中国台湾省和韩国都很成功。过去10年间,开市客国际业务的营收增长了两倍多。

开市客的营销:比山姆会员店高端

沃尔玛旗下的会员制仓储式连锁企业山姆会员店进入中国已经有20多年,所以有理由对开市客入华后的前景乐观。山姆会员店通过增加私人牙科诊所等服务(并因此收取更高的会员费)进军高端市场,并计划将中国门店的数量从今年年初的23家增加到2020年的40家。《中国日报》援引山姆会员店(中国)高级副总裁陈志宇的话称,市场状况表明过去一两年里,中国消费者为更优质服务买单的意愿有所增强。

开市客定位是比山姆会员店更加高端的购物场所,还打造了提供优质生鲜食品的声誉,可能变成抵御电商最好的堡垒。毕竟电商获得了风投大笔资金。大多数中国购物者买蔬菜还是喜欢能摸得着,至少得能够亲眼看见。最近一个季度中,沃尔玛的中国销售额在山姆会员店的推动之下增长了4.7%,主要就靠生鲜食品推动。

开市客曾经与阿里巴巴集团达成为期五年的在线合作协议,主要为了推广旗舰自有品牌柯克兰,此举协助公司在进军实体零售市场之前就树立好品牌。在中国严苛的零售业格局之下,充分整合在线零售和实体零售战略才有可能蓬勃发展。正如沃尔玛在2019年年报中指出:“在中国许多城市,说是当天送货,实际上是指一小时内送货。”沃尔玛与中国电商巨头京东保持着合作。

开市客上周二股价上涨5%,创下自今年3月以来的最大单日涨幅。股价或许高估了该公司在中国市场上的扩张潜力,很可能只会出现温和渐进式增长,尤其刚起步阶段。不过如果开市客能够在中国目前的市场环境里繁荣发展,站稳脚跟应该不成问题。 (财富中文网)

译者:艾伦

审校:夏林

Watching news video of the crowds descending on Costco's opening day in Shanghai, you might wonder, why all the excitement? After all, China has been a graveyard for many foreign retailers, after arriving with grand hopes, only to pull back after years of debilitating struggle.

Carrefour SA sold 80% of its operations in June after more than two decades in the country, Tesco Plc folded its business into a joint venture in 2013, and Metro AG is seeking a buyer for its Chinese unit.

However, Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco Wholesale Corp. has more reason than most to believe it can buck the trend.

China’s plan to extend its social credit system to corporations will raise compliance costs and could put some firms out of business, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said last Wednesday. At the same time, online shopping is increasingly taking market share from bricks-and-mortar retailers.

But none of that stopped Costco’s first Chinese outlet, in Shanghai, from being mobbed on its last Tuesday opening. It’s also probably not a flash in the pan, opening-day discounts notwithstanding.

Selling Maine lobster and Birkin bags

China’s consumer markets are fickle and retail is viciously competitive, with razor-thin margins. Still, Costco looks to have picked its niche carefully. The Shanghai outlet is in a suburban district, aiming to cater to car-driving shoppers willing to load up with bulk items such as 30-pack boxes of cookies or 200-fluid-ounce (6-liter) bottles of detergent. Selling in quantity helps enable the discounts that underpin Costco’s appeal.

Such a model wouldn’t work in the more built-up central areas of Shanghai, where most people live in cramped apartments and take public transport. That needn’t matter to Costco, though, as long as the U.S. retailer can find enough suitable suburban markets. Costco’s outlet in Shanghai’s Minhang district has parking space for 1,200 cars, more than any other of its locations.

Membership is a key element of Costco’s pitch to consumers. Being part of a fee-paying club adds an aura of exclusivity that may play well with Chinese shoppers, particularly when the Shanghai store offers high-end products such as Maine lobsters, bluefin tuna, and Birkin bags. Costco was charging an introductory membership fee of 199 yuan ($28) at last Tuesday’s opening, which will rise to 299 yuan ($41.73).

Costco already has shown that it can export its warehouse model, building successful operations in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. Revenue from international operations more than tripled in the past 10 years.

Marketing Costco as a high-end Sam's Club

Sam’s Club, the warehouse membership chain owned by Walmart Inc., has been in China for more than 20 years, which gives cause for optimism on Costco’s entry. Sam’s Club has pushed upmarket by adding services such as private dental clinics (for a higher membership fee) and aims to increase outlets in the country to 40 in 2020, from 23 at the start of this year. This demonstrates how Chinese consumers in the past one-two years have become more willing to pay for better services, according to Chen Zhiyu, senior vice president of Sam's Club China, as cited by the China Daily.

Costco positions itself as a higher-end shopping destination than Sam’s Club, and has built a reputation for quality fresh food. That may be the company’s best bulwark against the encroachment of internet operators. Venture capital money has been pouring into online grocers. Even so, most shoppers in China still like to touch or at least see their vegetables with their own eyes. Sam's Club drove a 4.7% surge in Walmart’s China sales in its most recent quarter, thanks largely to fresh-food sales.

Costco has had a five-year online partnership with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. in China to market its flagship private label Kirkland. That’s helped to build the company’s name in China ahead of its entry to physical retail. A strategy that integrates the two may be critical to flourish in China’s demanding retail landscape. “In many parts of China, same-day delivery really means same-hour delivery,” as Walmart observed in its 2019 annual report. The Sam’s Club owner has a partnership with Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com Inc.

Shares of Costco rose 5% on last Tuesday, the most since March. That may overstate the potential from a Chinese expansion that’s likely to be modest and incremental, at least at first. But if Costco can thrive in China’s current conditions, it should be there to stay.

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