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Supermarkets in China: the case of Shanghai

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Supermarkets have established a visible presence in Shanghai with some 1,000 stores and an estimated 5 per cent of market share. Local chains dominate the sector but well-known international retailers are very active. Studies indicate that a large proportion of consumers regularly shop in supermarkets but they use them 'selectively', mostly for packaged and processed foods, and continue to purchase fresh food in traditional outlets. The author uses a variety of data types and a number of research methods to analyse supermarkets' penetration into Shanghai. A background discussion of the food retail system in Shanghai highlights the traditional formats, the local and foreign supermarket chains, and the independent supermarkets. The data from a consumer shopping behaviour study is then used to assess supermarkets' penetration. Supermarkets' fast penetration into Shanghai is surprising given the findings of earlier studies, which identified the existence of serious limitations on the format's penetration into less developed countries (LDCs). Consequently, the focus in the second part of the paper is on explaining the reasons for the success of supermarkets. The impact of the factors identified in the earlier studies as constraining supermarkets' advance were evaluated and it was found that in Shanghai three of these factors (consumers, traditional retailers and government) did not cause serious problems for supermarkets. Only the supply-side conditions negatively affected their operations. The Shanghai example highlights the need to update our thinking regarding the LDCs' food retail modernization process in a number of directions. First local supermarket chains, not foreign ones, drive the process. Second, supply-side factors, not the demand-side ones that were emphasized in earlier studies, pose the major difficulties. Third, this analysis affirms the importance of the 'selective' adoption phenomenon where LDC consumers who regularly shop in supermarkets continue to purchase fresh food in traditional outlets. The implications of this analysis for food retail modernization theory and for practice are discussed and the prospects for further development of the supermarket sector in Shanghai are assessed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2000-01-01

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