Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wal-Mart Bringing Sexy Back to Chinese Girls

I love Wal-Mart. If you are able to look past their contributions in the deterioration of small communities, aid in shutting down mom & pop stores, as well as not giving their employees livable wages, you find a place with “everyday low prices, always.”

Look, they even got the #1 Ranking on the CNN Fortune 500 List of American Companies with $351,139,000,000 of revenue in 2006.

While I have never gone to Wal-Mart as much as it’s shown on Paris Hilton’s show, The Simple Life, many people go there for everything. This trend has now spread to the Chinese market. Wal-Mart and its comparable hypermarket brethren, Carrefour, Trust-Mart and Tesco are dotting the Chinese urban landscape. Cheap and (usually) dependable products have made shopping at these hypermarkets are very popular.

Recently, at the factory, I have seen many of my colleagues wearing a different variety of English t-shirts. Since we are without a standardized dress code in the office, many people come to work in random and interesting attire…most usually from Wal-Mart.

Today, I held my weekly meeting regarding new projects with members of various factory departments. A good friend of mine, 阿花, who is usually decently well dressed, came into the meeting with a very interesting t-shirt on. The white girl t-shirt had “I (heart) backseats.”

What?!... I immediately burst out laughing...while everyone at the meeting looked at me strangely. Of course no one knew what it meant or the connotations behind it.

After the meeting, during lunch, I was able to ask阿花 about what she was wearing. It turns out that she bought the shirt because she liked the sparkly accessories and the red heart. She had bought the shirt at Wal-Mart with a few other friends. She knew the basic meaning of “backseat” but didn't know the connotation behind it. After I explained it to her, she promised to never again wear the shirt.

While thinking about it, I can’t imagine what Wal-Mart was thinking in selling these sexually-provocative t-shirts to a population who is 1. considered sexually repressed and 2. have no idea what they are wearing. In my 6 months in China, I have seen many other girl shirts that have “slut”, “bitch” or “hot stuff” on it. Maybe they were all bought from Wal-Mart, maybe not.

I would like to personally thank Wal-Mart for giving the Chinese population more subliminal sexual undertones while pursuing their profits. Maybe in the near future you can convince Chinese people to get random English words tattooed on them like current Americans are doing with Chinese characters.

That will be the day.


Clement Wan said...

Hmmm. I've often wondered how one hates Walmart without hating the people who shop there. Not saying that you hate Walmart, but I mean there's a considerable amount of nostalgia over the businesses it's replaced, but while it does change the communities it comes into, I'm not sure it's accurate that it changes them for the worse. Certainly some inefficient and dumpy businesses get replaced, but small stores do grow and thrive getting more focused on what customers want specifically from them as I think people still want unique products and great service, and not everyone wants to wade around a hypermart.

This "i love backseats" is a bit of a departure from the Walmart that censors its magazine stands against porn or anything too risque. I was looking at a few pirated movies being sold on the street coming home today and I saw on one translation on a box that appeared to be an insider joke for fluent english readers (something about "Chaos" (2006) being the worst movie the guy's ever seen, 2 hours that he'd never get back, and to go watch Mr. and Mrs Smith instead). I wonder if that's the case for the t-shirt at Walmart that has a ridiculous number of skus - I mean if your coworker who may know some english didn't get it, it's not improbable that the buyer at Walmart in China didn't either and just liked the pretty sparkly heart and thought it would sell. Quite frankly though, in trying to do some shopping in China without a Walmart being particularly close, I gotta say that Walmart would be a big improvement though I can't say I shopped much there in North America either.

Mike said...

well, there are a lot of issues with Walmart and different sub-issues of monopolies, american "rednecks" shopping there, cheap stuff, eviormentally friendly packaging initatives, ect.... way too much to address. I can say that it is a love/hate relationship. On top of that, Sam Walton and the entire Walton family is in the same fraternity (Beta Theta Pi) as me. I guess we're brothers.

However, i do say that WalMart's buyers are definitely American. The last time I went to a WalMart (about 2 months ago), i saw atleast 5 American white people walking around (im guessing managers). I've also been to their distribution center in Shenzhen (near Shanghai hotel) and there were a lot of white people there too.

Clement Wan said...

That is then pretty crazy if Walmart has been willfully pushing shirts knowing what they mean - particularly their product policies in the US. I do wonder though how they choose what goes in their Chinese stores.

To some degree, I imagine some of their buyers must be gweilos but I can't imagine all of them are - given what you can buy, that contextually speaking, is quite out of the ordinary to what you would find in the US.

Walmart in China I find quite interesting though since it seems to be finding success here (though according to the WSJ their margins are less here than in the US - but at least that implies they do have margins) - and at least my employees have quite a positive image of it. I do wonder how difficult they find it to control corruption since again, because of the cultural context of their stock, I'd be very surprised that all their buyers or even most, are westerners.

Not that I also want to be seen as defensive of all things commercial, I do often feel that companies like Walmart get a bum rap. While I agree "I love backseats" is risque, it's only as risque as one wants it to be just as "fooling around" or "scoring" means very different things to different people. Compare "i love backseats" to shirts from Abercrombie and you might find Walmart's shirts tame by comparison - not that it'd be an excuse.