M&S exits China
Nov 18, 2016 (WiC 346)

Marks and Spencer opened its first China store in 2008, and got off to a bad start. Some believed that the building it had chosen in Shanghai was haunted, whilst others asserted that it simply had bad feng shui. But the most tragic omen came on its opening day, when a man fell to his death from its fourth floor escalator.

Last week M&S announced that it would be closing all of its China stores, having shuttered five last year, leaving just 10 left for the chop.

“Our review has shown that our stores in mainland China continue to make losses and as a result we can no longer trade with a store presence in the Chinese market,” said Adam Colton, managing director of Greater China for Marks and Spencer.

Jack Chuang, OC&C Strategy Consultants’ Greater China partner suggested that far from being due to its inauspicious start, M&S failed to capture the Chinese market because it neglected to adapt to it; and failed to make clothes to suit the size, shape and style of Chinese customers.

The closures in China are part of a global sweep: M&S is closing 53 stores in 10 countries, plus an additional 30 in its native UK. But M&S chief executive Steve Rowe said the shutting of its department stores were being made to enable the development of 200 new M&S Simply Food shops.

Since the Chinese scathingly refer to British food as “black cuisine”, should the new strategy apply to mainland China, it might not fare any better.

App dancing
Nov 11, 2016 (WiC 345)

Last year, mid- to late-aged women (known as dama) became the scourge of Chinese society. Congregating in public squares and dancing in unison to music blaring from loudspeakers, the dama disturbed the peace and aggravated tired workers. Although the practice has existed for years, it reached an apex in 2015 when the government attempted to regulate the dama’s dance choreography, prescribing 12 approved routines.

This regulation didn’t catch on, however, and now the private sector is stepping in to capitalise on the phenomenon known as “square dancing” (named for the public squares where it occurs).

One app, called Tangdou Square Dance, recently raised Rmb15 million ($2.20 million) in second round fundraising, piquing interest in the potential of the market. Tangdou provides users with instructional videos on dance routines, facilitates live streaming, and uses geo-positioning to inform the dama where the closest square dance is.

Purportedly, the app has over two million dance videos and logs one million users daily. This makes it a potential bonanza for advertisers as the dama, according to the Global Times, often control the household budget.

However the dama are not renowned for their tech savvy, so expanding the userbase of these apps is problematic. Nevertheless, Tangdou is not alone in the field. In April an app called Just Love Square Dancing raised Rmb13 million in funding.

The capital in a can
Oct 28, 2016 (WiC 344)

Last year WiC reported on a Canadian enterprise exporting bottled air to Beijing and offering residents a respite from the pollution that dogs the capital. It was the latest attempt to sell cans of fresh air in China, and one that we take some credit for: we’d pitched it as an April Fool’s joke back in 2011 (see issue 101).

More recently, a resident of the Chinese capital has decided to “push it the other way”, creating cans of Beijing Air for sale. And this time it does seems to be a bit of a joke, or at least a novelty gift. Dominic Johnson-Hill, a British expat and founder of the clothing brand Plastered 8, began selling Beijing Air this month for the bargain price of Rmb28 per can ($4). “They’re perfect gifts!” he enthuses. “What else are you going to take back when you go home from Beijing? A roast duck?”

Dominic isn’t just targeting foreign tourists: he’s promoting the ‘preserved pollution’ to the capital’s residents too, with the suggestion that they might miss the taste of Beijing’s air if they go abroad on holiday. Sales are supposedly doing quite well and some netizens have joined the joke, congratulating Beijingers on being able to breathe such expensive air for free.

Others have taken umbrage that an outsider is deriding one of China’s most pressing problems, while critics of the Briton have reminded him that London suffered from terrible smog not too long ago (a problem fixed in the 1950s). Fortunately for Johnson-Hill, he’s from smog-free Surrey.