Ute Holtmann, EHI Retail Institute, reports on her retail experiences in China
You can get anything you want in China. Megacities like Shanghai, in particular, offer an extreme variety of shopping experiences and cater to the classic prejudice, based on which everything in China is colorful, tacky and cheap.
Having said that, it also shows how increased buying power creates a market for high-quality, luxurious products. “Chinese manufacturers increasingly produce quality products and take you by surprise with innovative design. ‘Made in China‘ is turning into a seal of quality,“ the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung recently proclaimed.
Elke Moebius and Ute Holtmann during their store visit
Shang Xia nearly perfectly represents the new Chinese culture and new Chinese self-confidence. It is a Chinese luxury brand or so-called “contemporary lifestyle brand“ as staff member Sara Lin calls it. However, luxurious is exactly the right term considering the most precious materials, finest manufacturing processes, and premium pricing. It was founded in 2007 by Chinese designer Jiang Qiong together with Hermès.
In 2010, the Maison Shanghai opened in the hip Middle Huai Hai Road; another store followed in 2012 in Beijing and yet another one in Paris the following year. At 14,500 square feet, Japanese architect Kengo Kuma created a place in Shanghai where retail, culture, and art perfectly complement one another. Shang Xia exclusively sells premium and durable, often handcrafted products that are closely connected with Shang Xia’s philosophy of ”Take it and keep it for the next generation“. Many of the exclusive furniture pieces, tea sets made of delicate china or elaborately painted silk scarves are made by hand and in collaboration with artists. They represent premium quality and meet even the highest of expectations which is certainly also reflected in the price.
"China in your hands"
The expression of exclusivity is already apparent when you first enter the store. At Shang Xia Maison Shanghai in the popular Middle Huai Hai Road, every customer is greeted immediately right at the entrance. The store was designed by Jiang Qiong, who used both premium and unique materials. The walls and ceilings are covered with meshed white cloth and create a cozy ambiance. Customers should feel “like they are in a cloud“. The wall structure is only sporadically interspersed with high-quality shelves and clothing racks that create one harmonious unit with the discreet display cases. The customer is given full attention; he or she should feel welcome and comfortable and therefore also receives a cup of tea from a friendly staff member dressed in a discreet, uniform look.
Tea, one of the oldest parts of Chinese culture, also inspires one of the most fundamental motifs in Shang Xia’s culture. Along with the delicately handcrafted tea sets, authentic tea ceremonies that promote an appreciation for the products in a unique, almost spiritual atmosphere are also an integral part of the concept – thus making the high prices seem justified. ”If you cannot see the difference between handmade and industrial, I cannot tell you,” Sara Lin perfectly sums it all up in a nutshell.