Retail gets boost as promotions launched

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China has started a series of campaigns in May to boost consumer spending nationwide, as the retail sector continues to rebound from cautious spending caused by COVID-19.

Thirteen hundred themed activities, ranging from new product debuts to online-to-offline discounts, will be held in May and June under the 2021 National Consumption Promotion Month.

In an unveiling ceremony in Shanghai on May 1, Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao said the event aims to “further stimulate market vitality, unleash consumption potential and better serve to build a new development pattern”.

One flagship activity under the national initiative is Shanghai’s 5-5 Shopping Festival, which debuted last year as the COVID-19 pandemic waned in China to spur buying by introducing new products, subsidies and activities.

Shanghai Mayor Gong Zheng said the city will strive to become a barometer for consumption trends, featuring new product debuts, renowned brands, tax refunds or duty free shopping. The city will also accelerate digital transformation in the consumer realm and attract global shoppers.

Cosmetics giant L’Oreal is using three new brands, three flagship store debuts, two new beauty technologies and over 100 new products to celebrate the gala, as the company recently upgraded Shanghai as its North Asia zone headquarters.

“Last year, the 5-5 festival was a big boost for the economy and consumption following the pandemic,” said Fabrice Megarbane, president of L’Oreal North Asia Zone and CEO of L’Oreal China. “I am so happy that we are doing this anniversary once again, witnessing this acceleration in terms of consumption.”

To beef up purchases of local specialties from far-flung regions, e-commerce site Pinduoduo offers 45 percent discounts on a variety of special agricultural goods, such as coffee from Yunnan province and yak meat from Qinghai province.

Consumers stand to access these goods not only through 11 offline shops across Shanghai but also via deals as part of a dedicated online campaign by obtaining virtual coupons and subsidies worth 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion).

China’s retail sales surged 34.2 percent year-on-year in March. More significantly, that number jumped nearly 13 percent compared with that of March 2019, which was before the pandemic.

In the first two days of the five-day International Workers’ Day vacation, which ended on May 5, transactions via China UnionPay, the nation’s largest card processor, jumped 6.9 percent from that of 2019 to reach 754.3 billion yuan.

The string of measures came just in time for the five-day holiday, which marks the first long period in which consumers have been able to enjoy travel and many leisure activities since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, said Jason Yu, general manager of consultancy Kantar Worldpanel China.

“With unprecedented promotional stimulus offered by local governments and businesses, consumer spending is expected to see a surge, especially in hard-hit service sectors such as cinemas, restaurants and hotels,” Yu said. “The drive for consumption recovery is set to boost retail sales in the second quarter.”

The activities not only include cash rebates but also serve as a test for new experiences and products for consumers. Freshippo, the online-to-offline retail chain of Alibaba Group, is ready to release more than 60 new dishes for the festival, a lot of which blend time-honored brands with popular foods.

For instance, apart from dishing out 1.2 billion yuan worth of subsidies, the service has come up with an iced, yellow-rice-wine-flavored crawfish, a summertime favorite snack typically featuring pungent and spicy flavors.

“We really want to bring old-time memories to local diners, as they get a bite of innovative dishes,” said Chen Meijun, Freshippo Shanghai’s manager for catering and “3R”, which stands for the company’s pledge to offer ready to cook, ready to heat and ready to eat foods.

“Stable domestic demand is the most constant and sustaining driving force of economic development,” said Wang Junchao, an assistant professor of economics at the National Academy of Governance. “It’s also China’s biggest advantage in dealing with the complex external environment.”

Major cities such as Beijing, Chongqing and Suzhou will also hold sales in May, Gao Feng, a Ministry of Commerce spokesman, said at a news briefing last month.

Haikou, Hainan province, which is positioned as a major Chinese consumption and tourism hub, will hold its inaugural consumer goods expo from May 7 to 10.