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.
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.