The Chinese Mindset

In light of comments below, maybe I stand corrected.  Somebody says I’m in for a real culture shock next time I’m in the USA.
Orignal entry:
This is just an example, but it seems "so China" to me.
Today I went shopping at METRO.  It is a German brand company operating in China.  Here are two web pages about the company: 
At one time, I was told that Metro had an expat manager.  The store had lots of wonderful goodies we couldn’t get other places.  Sour cream, salamis, cheeses, olives, wines.  But I’ve noticed a bit of a slide in the last year — certain things are no longer on the shelves.  This is to be expected, as the company sorts out what the local market is seeking and drops items that don’t sell.  But all in all, METRO is still a good place to purchase "foreign" food.  For example, it doesn’t always stock non-sweetened yogurt, but there are only two food stores in Guangzhou where I’ve ever seen it and this is one of them.  They have a few things that nobody else has. 
Additionally, about half of Metro’s stock is durable goods: cookers, grills, pots and pans, bicycles, etc.  It is name brand and good quality.  In fact, if one has a receipt one can actually return defective goods.  Because of this quality, and after having been burned by purchasing what turned out to be a counterfeit and defective HP Printer from a local computer store, I purchased a genuine HP Printer from METRO last year.  In almost every respect, it is a great little printer.  It cleans itself, never jams, even tells me when my inks are running low.  It brainlessly scans, faxes, photocopies, and prints great photographs.  There is just one problem with the printer.  It uses six ink cartridges, the ink cartridges are outrageously expensive, and (more or less) I can only get them at Metro.  
I have on occasion found Metro to be out of stock on certain colors, which is not very convenient when these cartridges are so hard to find.  One time I had to wait three weeks to get a replacement red cartridge.  Additonally, it’s quite a hike to the store and not always convenient to go, so I’ve taken up the habit of always keeping a spare of each color.  Whenever I find the cartridges low in stock, I can point it out to a clerk and the new ones arrive before I run out.  Today, I decided to restock my spare cartridges before there was a crisis.  I needed four of the six cartridges:  black, magenta, light blue, and pink.  The METRO store was out of stock in the pink color, so I asked the floor clerk to order one.  She called the Manager over.
The Manager (who did not speak English) proceeded to explain to the store clerk that I didn’t need all those colors, that I only needed three colors for my printer:  blue, yellow, and magenta.  I persisted.  Yes, I did need them, I explained. 
I thought he didn’t understand, so I walked over and showed him the box that packages one of the unsold printers.  The box clearly states what colors are needed.  Six of them.  I pointed to the colors.  See, six, and I named them in Chinese.  He still insisted that I did not need but three colors. 
I persisted.  I went to a floor model of the printer out on display, opened the lid, and showed him the six cartridge holders.  In my experience, the printer won’t work if any of the cartridges are missing. 
Finally, after a very long time of his explaining to the clerk how I didn’t need them, the truth came out.  He said that because the cartridges are so expensive, most people only use the three primary colors:  blue, red, and yellow.  So he now only orders those three colors. 
I persisted again.  "Would those three colors produce good quality photographs," I asked?  He hesitated.  Then he said that it would take ten days to get the pink cartridges from his supplier in Shanghai.  If I would agree to purchase them, he would order them and call me when they arrived.  I agreed.  I told him I wanted to purchase three of each color.  He took my phone number. 
My thought was, "This is so China!"  But, I wondered, what makes it so?  Our family discussed it at dinner, as we ate our beef purchased at Metro. 
My first response in answer to the question "What is so China about this," is that the Chinese customers are so driven by cost that they will sacrifice a major feature of their expensive, state of the art printer.  Namely, they sacrifice the capacity to print really excellent quality photos or other materials.  I can’t fault the store manager for responding to his market. 
But there’s another aspect to think about that may be less obvious.  The manager failed to anticipate that some of his customers do, indeed, care about having all the colors available.  If that were not so — if nobody at all were buying the cartridges — he wouldn’t have run out of the pink color in the first place.  It’s simply a matter of good customer service to have some in stock and to restock it when low, even if on a different schedule.  Secondly, he also failed to appreciate that it wasn’t necessarily that his customers don’t want the colors, there’s also a possibility that perhaps the printer itself simply uses less of the more subtle colors. 
I can’t imagine an American manager making a decision not to stock the recommended colors just because he thought it was cheaper for the customer.  The American manager may not think about why he is doing it, in a theoretical sense, but he will stock what the company recommends for restocking the ink.  Because that’s the right way to do it.  I don’t mean "right" in a moral sense.  I mean that he will follow the rules about how to use the printer and what is needed for the printer, including stocking the proper ink.  A second difference may be the consumer himself.  If an American customer doesn’t need to print good quality color, then he wouldn’t choose that printer, which is significantly more expensive than more strictly utilitarian models.  He would feel free to choose a cheaper printer even if it were not the very latest and greatest. 
And in closing, I wonder what the Chinese manager is thinking about this:  will he stock the colors in the future?  At the conclusion of the exchange, the girl who spoke English said that she remembere me from when I complained about a broken item a few weeks ago.  I guess I was being labeled as that troublesome foreigner.  I told her that though I shop here frequently, everything I had ever purchased at Metro was of good quality and that I had never returned anything.  I hope it’s not just perceived as the troublesome foreigner, but somehow I think I may be hoping too much. 


Filed under Cross Cultural Issues

2 responses to “The Chinese Mindset

  1. Molly

    I\’m not sure it\’s always price that is the deciding factor. Although the manager told you people didn\’t want to buy the pink cartridges because they\’re too expensive, he may have been giving you the excuse he thought you\’d understand. I think it\’s more a matter of what they think is important, vs what we think is important. I\’ve seen time and again, where a family will spend a ridiculous amount of money on something flashily, ostentatiously, outrageously expensive, (say maybe a chandelier or an "American imported" sofa) and yet won\’t put a roll of toilet paper in each bathroom, because some of them are rarely used, and why not save and just have that roll in the little flower covered holder sitting on the coffee table in the living room where anyone leaving to go use the facilities can grab a handful to take with them. It\’s difficult to show off your wealth by using good quality t.p., but that massively huge crystal and gold thing in the middle of the ceiling. . now that says wealth! They buy your HP printer, not because it prints a high quality picture (they\’re going to pay someone to print their pictures, they\’re not going to do it at home!) but because it is the most expensive one. And since they did need a printer, and they will print some things, they will periodically have to replace the inks, but as mentioned, if they\’re not printing photos they may not use up much of the subtler colors and so replace the primary shades more often. No one can tell by looking at the printer that the ink is expensive, so you might as well buy cheap. They will economize on the invisible, but not the stuff everyone can see, as long as you can tell by looking at it that it\’s expensive. Don\’t spend the money on a better built chair, with real wood instead of particle board, and real leather instead of "pleather" and an extra inch of foam, because quality is only important if it\’s apparent and looks expensive.
    He may also just not have the space to store the extra inks, if they don\’t turn over very quickly. I always marvel at the tiny little shops selling clothing or shoes, and the fact that often whatever you see is what you can buy . . and that\’s it. If they don\’t have the sweater you like in your size, tough. They have maybe something similar, although it will be different material, a different color, different neckline, but the correct size. Even at Metro I don\’t think there\’s a lot of storage space, so keeping something on hand that sells at a snail\’s pace may just not be that easy, even if it\’s as tiny as ink cartridges.
    And finally, having to order that ink from Shanghai . . well, that\’s going to intail some work. Someone will have to spend some time filling out who knows how much paperwork, and it might get lost on the other end, and then someone will have to watch for it to come in, and contact you, and . . well, gee, all of that\’s a lot of work. And all for what, may after all, not be that much of a profit to the company. I think there\’s still the perception culturally that you can never be quite sure that policies won\’t change suddenly, and arbitrarily, and if you\’ve been putting yourself forward too much, if you\’ve been doing more than the bare minimum in your job, that could come back to haunt you in an adverse way, so best to just keep a low profile. Don\’t be too helpful, and don\’t do more than necessary. Convincing you to buy what everyone else is getting, well that\’s just being practical.

  2. Elizabeth

    Hey, I can name a few stores in Aiken that would not have all the colors.

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