Shanghai Online Shopping and the Receptionist
At work, the young lady sitting opposite my cubicle would get calls from the reception desk twice each Wednesday or Friday. On my first month, I always thought it was the regular delivery of prototype hardware to work on. However, I soon noticed she had a gleam in her eye and an excited look when she would open up the package. The contents: jackets, skirts, or trinkets.
The receptionist, I was told, is an integral part of the Shanghai online shopping experience. The employees in the Shanghai company told me every company has some sort of representative to receive delivered online purchases. I would think it unprofessional in the U.S. to have your purchased items delivered to your workplace (not to mention a breach in privacy). In Shanghai, however, having purchased items delivered to the office ensures that the delivery guy won't arrive at an empty home. Sure, China Post/EMS will actually call you or send you an SMS if you're not present at your residence, but Shanghainese tell me why have to go through rescheduling the delivery when they can have it sent directly to you at the office?
Online shopping is a way of life in the U.S., but I was somewhat taken aback by the regularity of purchases by many of my co-workers in Shanghai. One of them purchased an umbrella, which she said was delivered hours from making the order and 10 RMB cheaper than at the store. Another bought a shiny blouse. I spoke to one of these online shoppers about the advantages and I heard answers I would expect from a New Jersey or California resident: price, speed, and convenience.
I can definitely understand "convenience." Chinese employees work horribly long hours, perhaps not enough time to hop off to one of the sprawling shopping malls. Although Shanghai is filled with huge malls and street markets, retail is obviously taking a hit from its cheaper online competitors. Shanghai is, after all, one of the most expensive cities in the world. To get items for even a few RMB cheaper would be a godsend for migrant workers, students, and the typical Chinese employee.
However, there are certain obstacles to this online activity. One of the other foreigners at the Shanghai office purchased a set of jackets, too - but she had to use the credit card of one of the Chinese locals. It is extremely difficult for a foreigner to get a Chinese credit card, and using a card issued from another country isn't always honored. A Taiwanese I spoke to, who had lived in Shanghai for awhile, told me that even Visa and Mastercard wasn't always accepted. Some merchants just preferred JCB or UnionPay.
For my part, I'm wary about online shopping in Shanghai for the same reason I'm worried about online shopping anywhere - security and quality of purchase. Hazards of navigating a Chinese-language shopping site aside, I know enough about online security to worry about my card number. Moreover, it's easy to feel safe buying books and movies from Amazon.com, but I'd hesitate to give out my credit card number to Taobao.com for items I can't inspect. Call me traditional or paranoid, but I can't see myself buying a shirt or digital camera without examining it first, manufactured in China or not.
The idea of buying online in China is tempting, especially if you've gotten used to it in your home country. Perhaps someday I'll also look forward to a receptionist's call and have that same excitement as I unwrap the package at work.