Kobe Bryant’s Nike sneakers with the Made in China label go for $165 in the U.S. But at an official Nike store in China? $190. A flat-screen Sony TV assembled by Chinese laborers runs about $800 at a Best Buy store in the U.S. But you’d pay 30% more at the popular Chinese appliance chain Gome. The same goes for that Maclaren Techno XT infant stroller. It’s also manufactured here, but you’ll typically pay 40% more for one at a Beijing mall than you would in the U.S.
It’s a paradox of life here in the world’s factory floor. The place known for delivering low-cost goods to Western consumers doesn’t always do the same for its own people.
This may have been of little consequence to economists and world leaders a few years ago. But today, getting China’s consumers to open their wallets is crucial to balancing a wobbly global economy grown too dependent on American and European shoppers.
It won’t be easy. Chinese households are already famously frugal — and with good reason. A flimsy social safety net means tens of millions must save for their own education, healthcare and retirement. And while consumer spending has been rising along with China’s prosperity, it has done so almost in spite of an economic model geared almost exclusively toward production rather than domestic consumption.