The boom in Chinese bookstores is fueled by visual appeal and social media traffic
Visitors take photos and read books in Shenzhen on November 13, 2021 at a Zhongshuge bookstore, a chain known for interior design.
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BEIJING – Social media is so important to Chinese consumer goods companies that visual appeal tends to be a priority for a number of new bookstores.
Elaborate interior designs – sometimes reinforced by mirrors – have not only attracted the attention of “Architectural Digest”, but also young Chinese in search of new experiences.
“The Chinese consumer, especially the post-90s [generation]”They want convenience, they want new things,” said Derek Deng, partner at Shanghai-based Bain & Co. who heads the company’s consumer goods practice in Greater China.
“They covet the products [that] Not only being able to meet their functional needs, but also addressing their emotional needs, “he said,” be it something you can show your coworkers, something you always find pleasure in, or just feel that you need it make it easier for you to fit in. “
Shopping malls noticed. Rather than signing contracts with large department stores to become the main draw for customers, malls have turned into coffee and tea shops, sleek bookstores, electric car showrooms and other trendy stores, said Jacky Zhu, research director for western China at JLL.
“You can increase pedestrian traffic. You can increase pedestrian traffic for a specific customer, ”he said. This is so much the case, he added, that malls make bookstores pay a third or a quarter of the rent of a clothing or cosmetics store.
In addition to visually appealing interiors, many bookstores in China sell coffee, stationery and gift items. Nostalgia for the China of past decades is a popular topic.
One of Mia Huang’s favorite bookstores is a shop in a traditional four-walled Beijing courtyard. The shop displays a lot of historical items like bicycles and door signs, and has a public reading area, she said.
Huang, who belongs to the post-90s generation, said she quit her job at an internet technology company in 2019 to become a full-time travel blogger and share comments, photos and videos about her experience.
This building in Beijing, China, was built in 1907 as the city’s first Anglican church, but has long since lost its religious functions and was converted into a bookstore before this photo was taken on June 21, 2019.
Jason Fan | Barcroft Media | Getty Images
Another 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 a trend where people visit places they’ve seen on social media and then take their own photos to prove they are were there.
Going to bookstores isn’t really intended for buying books, she said, noting that many of the stores have turned into tourist attractions or cozy places to take a break.
According to a 2019 report by government online publication Sixth Tone, some bookstores in China have become so popular that thousands of people are ready to wander to remote areas. A village location of the hipster bookstore Librairie Avant-Garde grossed 1.5 million yuan (US $ 234,375) in sales for the year ended mid-November, according to a report by the state-run China Daily.
What is less clear is whether the rising interest in visually appealing bookstores means that stores actually benefit from selling books.
Store stock selection often focuses on art and design, while non-book gift items can take up a significant portion of retail space, the reporter’s observations.
In China, tight government control means that titles published or sold in the country do not conflict with censorship. Books by or about Chinese President Xi Jinping are prominently displayed at many bookstore entrances, while the state operates its own nationwide chain of bookstores.
Locals read books at Xinhua Bookstore in Handan, Hebei Province, China on June 13, 2021.
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Shops called bookstores are still open.
According to Qichacha, a company database, more than 40,000 new bookstore-related businesses have registered in the country every year since 2017. For that year through November, 39,000 new bookstores have registered – a 6% increase over the previous year, the data showed.
These new openings still outperform the annual closings of around 10,000 or more bookstore-related stores, the database shows.
A model walks the catwalk at the LEDIN collection show by Chinese designer Wang Dongyang during China Fashion Week 2020/2021 A / W Collection at Page One Bookstore on May 6, 2020 in Beijing, China.
Sheng Jiapeng | China Intelligence Service | Getty Images
However, bookstores in the digital age have never been an easy business, and the financial troubles of the prestigious bookstore chain Yanyouji this fall sparked an online discussion about the future of photogenic bookstores. It reflects the difficulty of running a business even after it has gained prominence on social media, and exemplifies a trend in the fast-growing Chinese consumer market.
Of the 46 Chinese consumer brands launched in 2018, only 17 are doing well this year, analysts at Bain and Kantar Worldpanel found in a report released earlier this month. In the makeup space, 30% of the brands launched in 2016 have been phased out, the report said.
China’s new consumer brands in recent years have tended to use online e-commerce and social media channels to make a first wave of traffic, Deng said. He found that digital data on consumer trends is helping new brands quickly test and customize their products.
A look inside TSUTAYA bookstore on March 29, 2021, Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province, China.
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However, it is more difficult for these newcomers to find a second growth channel, which usually requires expansion into the more complicated world of physical business and local sales, Deng said.
“What has always been missing is once you’ve recruited [consumers] If they are first buying your product, how can you make sure they keep staying with you? “He said.” The repeat purchase rate has become a major factor for these insurgent brands on the first wave of successes to more sustained growth . “
For a novelty bookstore, this means photographers will come back and spend money – even when retail sales have been sluggish.
Some are bringing in specialist supermarkets, hairdressers, and book authoring events to create a community that can cater to the needs of an entire family or a specific population group, said Zhu of JLL. “From my point of view, I believe the bookstore can survive,” he said. “They can survive because of their changing strategy to adapt to the changing retail market.”