China’s bookstore boom is fueled by visual appeal, social media traffic

Visitors take pictures and read books in Shenzhen on November 13, 2021, at a bookstore Zhongshuge, a famous chain of interior design.

VCG | Visual China Corporation | beautiful pictures

BEIJING – Social media plays such an important role for Chinese consumer businesses that for a host of new bookstores, visual appeal tends to take precedence over all of them. .

Intricate interior designs – sometimes amplified by mirrors – are not just attracted the attention of “Architectural Digest” but also young Chinese people looking for new experiences.

“Chinese consumers, especially the 90s [generation]”They want convenience, they want novelty,” said Derek Deng, Shanghai-based partner at Bain & Co., who leads the company’s consumer product operations in China.

“They want the products [that] not only satisfy a functional need, but also be able to address their emotional need,” he says, “whether it’s something you can show off to your co-workers, something you’ve always found amusing.” , or something you feel you need. make it easier for you to fit in. “

The mall has noticed. Instead of contracting with big department stores to attract mainstream customers, shopping malls have turned to coffee and tea shops, sophisticatedly designed bookstores, electric car showroom and other trendy stores, said Jacky Zhu, head of research for the West China region at JLL.

“They can drive pedestrian traffic. They can drive pedestrian traffic for a target customer,” he said. He added that it happens so often that shopping malls will allow bookstores to pay a third or a quarter of the rent of a clothing or cosmetics store.

In addition to eye-catching interiors, many bookstores in China also sell coffee, stationery, and gifts. Nostalgia for the China of decades past is a popular theme.

One of Mia Huang’s favorite bookstores is a traditional Beijing courtyard store with four walls. The store displays many historic items like bicycles and door signs, and has a public reading area, she said.

Huang, of the post-90s generation, said she left her job at an internet technology company in 2019 to become a full-time travel blogger – sharing comments, photos and videos of the experience hers.

The building in Beijing, China, was built in 1907 as the first Anglican church in the city, but had long since lost its religious function and was converted into a bookstore before this photo was published. Taken on June 21, 2019.

Jason fan | Barcroft Media | beautiful pictures

Another one of Huang’s favorite bookstores is one converted from a church building in Beijing.

“A lot of people go there to ‘check in’,” she said in Mandarin, referring to the trend in which people visit places they’ve seen on social media and then take pictures of themselves. to prove that they got there.

Going to a bookstore isn’t really about buying books, she said, noting that many have turned into tourist attractions or comfortable places to rest.

Some bookstores in China have become so popular that thousands of people are willing travel to remote areas, according to a 2019 report by the online publication Sixth Tone. A village location of the stylish Librairie Avant-Garde bookstore brought in 1.5 million yuan ($234,375) in sales in the year to mid-November, according to a reported from the state newspaper China Daily.

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It’s unclear whether the surge in interest in visually appealing bookstores means businesses are actually profiting from book sales.

According to this reporter’s observation, stores’ book titles often focus on art and design, while non-book gift items can take up a significant portion of the floor space. of this reporter.

In China, tight government controls mean that titles published or sold in the country are free from censorship issues. Many bookstore entrances feature books by or about Chinese President Xi Jinping, while the state operates a nationwide chain of bookstores.

Locals read books at the Xinhua Bookstore in Handan, Hebei province, China, on June 13, 2021.

Costfoto | Barcroft Media | beautiful pictures

Businesses that call themselves bookstores remain open.

More than 40,000 new bookstore-related businesses have registered in the country each year since 2017, according to Qichacha, a business database. In the year to November, 39,000 new bookstore businesses have signed up – up 6% year-on-year, the data shows.

The database shows that the annual number of openings is still higher than the annual closings of about 10,000 or more bookstore-related businesses.

A model walks on the runway at Chinese designer Wang Dongyang’s LEDIN collection show during China Fashion Week 2020/2021 A/W Collection at Page One Bookstore on May 6, 2020 in Beijing, China.

Sheng Jiapeng | China News Service | beautiful pictures

However, bookstores have never been an easy business in the digital age, and the financial troubles of popular bookstore chain Yanyouji this fall have created online discussion about the future of photogenic bookstores. It reflects the difficulties of managing a business even as it has gained traction on social media and is symbolic of a trend in China’s fast-growing consumer market.

Of the 46 Chinese consumer brands that boomed in 2018, only 17 are still doing well this year, Bain and Kantar Worldpanel analysts found in a report published this month. . In the makeup sector, 30% of the brands that entered the market in 2016 were discontinued, the report said.

New Chinese consumer brands in recent years tend to use e-commerce channels and online social networks to get the initial wave of traffic, Deng said. He notes that digital data on consumer trends helps new brands quickly test and adapt their products.

Interior view of TSUTAYA bookstore on March 29, 2021, Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province, China.

Costfoto | Barcroft Media | beautiful pictures

But these newcomers find it difficult to find a second channel for growth, which often requires expansion into the more complex world of physical stores and local distribution, Deng said.

“What is always missing is that once you recruit [consumers] While you’ve already let them buy your product the first time around, how can you ensure they continue with you? “, he said.” Repeat purchase rate has become one of the most important factors for those famous brands that hit the first wave of success for more sustainable growth. “

For a new bookstore, that means getting people who see photos to come back and spend money – even if Retail sales are very sluggish.

Some are bringing on specialty supermarkets, hairstylists and events with book authors to create a community that can meet the needs of an entire family or a group, says JLL’s Zhu. specific demographics. “In my view, I believe the bookstore can survive,” he said. “They can survive on their changing strategy to adapt to the changing retail market.”


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