Showing posts with label Chinese new year. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chinese new year. Show all posts

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Spring festival blues and commercial opportunities

The Chinese new year is a festival of joy, family reunion, fun and celebration. However when 1.3 billion Chinese decide to celebrate and get reunited with their families during the same seven day period, it generates unprecedented competition for limited resources and ensuing hardship. At the same time it generates a commercial bonanza. According to data from the Ministry of Commerce in China, total retail sales during the week long festivities reached 539 billion yuan ($86 billion)- 14.7% more than last year. The commercial opportunities do not just exist for the big retailers and manufacturers, this special time of the year generates some rather niche, ingenious but also sometimes dubious commercial activity.

Take me home

The most intense competition during this period is for transportation to go back home. According to popular estimates in the media, the Chinese will make 3.4 billion trips during the peak 40 day travel period around the Chinese New Year, of which 3.1 billion will be road trips. 220 million are expected to take a train ride during this period. Online ticketing, which started just a few years ago, was expected to make the whole process relatively painless - however it turned out to be a barrier for migrant workers in buying tickets to go back home during the spring festival. According to a survey by the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade, more than 90% of the migrant workers preferred taking a train to go back home and almost 80% of them said that they would do so by buying tickets from a ticket office. 70% of them said that they were not familiar with the online ticketing procedure and only 18% had tried using the online ticketing service. A kindly couple who was offering the service for online ticket purchase at a small fee to migrant workers was apprehended with the accusation of touting. 

For those who are internet literate the task of making a booking is no less arduous. The average daily number of hits on the website has topped 120 million during the peak days. Online sales are now responsible for over a third of total tickets, accounting for as many as 6 million tickets a day. The buyers often face interminable waits while the overtaxed computers cope up with the deluge of booking requests. In an exhibition of ingenuity, three internet giants - Qihoo360, Kingsoft and Sogou - designed plug-ins for browsers to automate the task of repeatedly trying to login and buying  train tickets on the overloaded train booking website. Critics opined that the software gives the internet savvy an unfair advantage to secure the much prized tickets.

The road less travelled 

Many consumers are taking the "road less travelled" with one entrepreneur from Hangzhou choosing to take 48 buses to reach his home in Linyi in Shandong. Another enterprising soul undertook the arduous journey back home using 8 train tickets and transfers from Shanghai to his home town in Sichuan. As direct tickets are most difficult to secure, this segmented approach worked well for him and he was able to get home smoothly and relatively quickly. In fact the train enthusiast is offering consultancy to others on identifying circuitous routes back home where ticket purchase is still a possibility.

Meet your future son/daughter-in-law

When the young city workers go home, the parents are solicitous about their quest for marriage partners. Those who have not achieved success in this area, are worried about creating anxiety among their parents and persistent pressure on themselves. Taobao, china's online megastore, which offers everything from the latest iPad to freshly slaughtered chicken, comes to rescue on this count also. For a few thousand yuan, any unattached youth can hire someone who would pretend to be his or her future life partner during the golden week that is spent with the parents. Things do not always go as smoothly and dispassionately as planned, with a genuine spark of affection for the hired companion. 

Happy meals

Those who have already tied the knot and are the sole bearers of the family name and hopes for their parents ( as a result of family planning) need to make the difficult decision of with which set of parents should they have the nianyefan or the New Year's Eve dinner. Restaurants have come to the rescue urging the young from hosting the dinner at their premises, including both set of parents and even grandparents. The service is popular and the good restaurants are often booked months in advance.


Packaging for 'face'

Of course, when you go home you must carry gifts. Migrant workers who have left their children in their home towns and villages in the custody of their elders, have no dearth of what they can buy, and go back home loaded with toys for their children. The elderly are often rewarded with health foods, which will provide them with even more energy and stamina to look after their grandchildren. Marketers often exploit the gifters' need for face and desire to be seen as someone who has done well in the city and has come back with generous and valuable gifts. The often modest gifts are made to look more alluring and grand through excessive packaging. The authorities have taken notice of this and are coming down or deceptive and wasteful use of extravagant packaging.

Sleep well while you travel home

A product named "sleep support" has gained popularity on the internet as a sleep support for sitting upright sleep. The gadget provides head and chest support to the users, while sleeping upright on a train. a netizen suggested that if the instrument can also provide a place for comfortably holding an iPad its value will be considerably enhanced.


Written by Ashok Sethi
ashok.set@gmail.com

Monday, May 12, 2008

Chinese ratatouille

The Chinese new year of the rat has been a turbulent one so far. Right at the start of the year, many Chinese who work in cities, away from home, could not make the mandatory journey back home, a victim of mayhem in transportation as a result of the worst snow to hit China in over 50 years. As soon as the snow thawed and a semblance of normality was restored, the age old issue of Tibet raised its troublesome head again. Not a positive press for China in the year of the rat - the year in which China will don the mantle of the Olympic host and bask in the glory of their achievements as the world gazes with awe and amazement.

The bite of the snow still gnaws, and the counter allegations and invective on Tibet still ring in the air, encouraging reflection on the state of the nation and the challenges it faces on the march to fulfill its ambition to become a moderately prosperous society (xiao kang shui ping, in Chinese). While fueling the improvement of the rural living conditions in countryside through remittances from the urban workplace, the migrant workers continue to lead a miserable existence in the cities. Subject to quetionable contracts, some times below legal wages, and little paid leave and social welfare, the workers provide the cheap labour at the country’s economic engines in its factories and construction sites. The relatively well heeled urban dwellers often look at them with fear as the “haves” often look at the “have-nots”.

In spite of the harsh existence that this group ekes out, they are still responsible for bringing money to the otherwise impoverished countryside. The Chinese government is paying special attention to this, as evident in their development plan, embodied by the slogan of a “new countryside”.

While the rural residents are learning to cope with these basic challenges and the urban folks face the ordeal of rising prices. The Consumer Price Index touched 8.7% in February this year, an 11 year high. For the first quarter as a whole the inflation stood at 8%, a 5.3% increase over the same period last year. Apart from domestic disasters such as the snow storm and the blue ear disease afflicting the porcine population, international rise in grain prices is also contributing to the rising food prices.

At the same time rising real estate prices are making housing more and more inaccessible. Buying houses, is a new way of spending new money in China – just 15 years ago there were no houses to be bought, nor was there much money to buy them. But now buying a house has become a de rigueur pre mating condition and the steadily rising price line is converting many young Chinese into fang nu (house slaves) as a result of having burdened themselves with frightening mortgages. The alternative is forced bachelorhood, if they couldn’t muster up the courage to take the loan (even if they did muster up the courage to ask the hand of the loved one in marriage!).

While the real estate was in the ascendance in the just concluded year of the pig, its flight paled into insignificance when compared to the 96.7% increase in the Shanghai composite index. For the 136 million Chinese who climbed onto the stock bandwagon, buying houses became a lot easier with this gift from the financial markets. However the many others who balked at what they saw as the irrational exuberance of the market, rued the fact that they did not have the courage to haul their hard earned savings to the nearest brokerage. However with the over 40% decline that the market has seen from the dizzy heights of the peak in 2007, they are now congratulating themselves at their foresight.


In spite of the fact that the issues confronting the Chinese are weighty, they have much to look forward to and bring back a cheer in the lives. Of course they will beam with pride when they will host the Olympics this year. In fact the pride is already on display as are the marvellous facilities, including the Bird’s Nest stadium and The Water Cube several months ahead of the schedule.

The new apartments in the cities may stretch the bank accounts of the young Chinese who rush to acquire them, but they offer distinctly improved living conditions from the old and cramped houses they inhabited earlier. The new owners are enjoying the modern acquisition and converting their homes into sanctuaries of comfort and privacy. The stores are brimming with goods to furnish the apartment and make it an exclusive abode, making its owners glow with pride.

The new middle class created as a result of entrepreneurship and well paying jobs from multinationals and Chinese companies bulging with corporate profits, are aspiring to a lifestyle of the Western elite. They visit bars, sip red wine, enjoy gourmet food, watch Hollywood films (including Ratatouille, dubbed into Chinese) and plan for holidays abroad. The chilling frost which heralded the year of the rat has done nothing to dampen the optimism and the enthusiasm of the urban Chinese who plan to continue the celebration into the year and many more to come. The year of the rat represents the start of a new cycle in the Chinese calendar – and perhaps for China too as it gets ready to stage the Olympics. Rat is believed to embody qualities of being quick witted, nimble and charming. “Rats” like to be in the thick of action, are sociable and are never late for a party – qualities which will undoubtedly be on display in Beijing during the Olympics.