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Tired of Shopping

Popularity 17Viewed 6103 times 2014-12-2 03:45 |System category:Economy| shopping, online shopping, recycling, sustainability

This was the first year that American media paid much attention to China's Singles Day online shopping phenomenon. News outlets were probably inspired by the Alibaba IPO earlier this fall, and the company would like nothing more than to inspire Americans to open their wallets as widely as Chinese do for November 11.

I have considerable doubt about that. Americans already face extended months-long spending for three major holidays soon after November 11, namely Thanksgiving, Xmas, and New Year. Many must pay off those holiday debts over the new year, only to repeat the cycle every year. This year some major retailers stayed open on Thanksgiving, instead of closing and opening up early on Black Friday, which had long been the biggest shopping day of the year.

Americans started shopping online long before Chinese did; in both countries, fierce competition among retailers has grown every year and their profit margins for their goods have been shrinking. It's a buyer's market. Consumers have learned to shop around and wait for better promotions. They don't get excited by 25-30% off; they wait for 40% and more, and there are apps that help them compare prices online as well as locally.

In previous years, Americans expected the biggest discounts on Black Friday and after that, the day after Xmas. Then with the popularity of digital, we had Cyber Monday (after Thanksgiving, which is always on a Thursday). Last year, we saw many stores keep cutting from Black Friday all the way through to after New Year. This year, they started leaking upcoming discounts before Thanksgiving, and they are trying to trump each other by offering even bigger cuts.

Chinese online vendors know all about this, because that's life on Taobao. For many, especially if they're selling cheap stuff or knockoffs being sold by many other vendors, the result is no profits at all, and they go bust.

I was an avid shopper as a high school and college student, but later on, it became tiresome. When you don't have much and need many things, it's exciting to get them. When you don't need them but are still confronted by millions of ads begging you nonstop to buy more, it becomes a big turnoff. It's quite ironic how Americans of every economic class are becoming more interested in recycling or repurposing objects, instead of buying new. Their attitude was once like the present Chinese consumer's - to buy new things and keep buying more. Now many Americans even take pride in what they can do with used things, whether it's building houses from shipping containers or raised garden beds from discarded old wood. They regard it as a challenge to come up with new ideas. It's amazing what can be done with a simple wooden pallet so many goods are shipped on; it just consists of wooden slats nailed together. I'm growing vegetables on top of them; you can also fill them with dirt and grow plants inside of them; some people saw up the pallets and make furniture from them.

Chinese would probably regard it as a loss of face to buy used things. But aside from the money you can save, consider how much stuff you can save from going into a landfill and polluting the environment. It's possible to recycle 2/3 of your trash; some people can do even better. If 1.3 billion people could do that, it is obviously worth thinking about. Also, there is money to be made buying and selling recycled materials and used goods. If anything can inspire Chinese entrepreneurs to be innovative and stand out from their competitors, why not this?

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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I am a semi-retired American physician and medical/science writer who lives in New Orleans, in the southeastern USA. I spent 2012-2013 teaching at a college in Lianyungang, Jiangsu.


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