After the Berlin Wall fell, one of the first aspects of western society that East Berliners were attracted to were the supermarkets, stocked with goods and brands that simply weren't as plentiful in the formerly Communist bloc. China's "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" has long since offered Chinese people a similar consumer culture as can be found in the West. But on Tuesday, shoppers in Shanghai got their first taste of what it means to shop at an American-style warehouse club when the first Costco in China opened its doors.
It was almost immediately overrun by curious shoppers, who signed up for memberships in droves. For a few hours, everybody seemed to forget about the trade war, and simply shopped for bulk packages of peanut butter, toilet paper and whatever regionally popular products ended up in the stores.
Demand was so intense on opening day that Costco was forced to close early as crowds of thousands of people showed up to shop.
The scene inside looked like Black Friday crowds on steroids. But according to one reporter, police soon forced the store to close for security reasons.
#Costco opened its Shanghai outlet, causing traffic jam and huge crowds waiting to shop. Police were even said to #herebyorder close the store for security reason. Welcome to #China . pic.twitter.com/GwgTaYoCT1— Wang Hao (@hongfenghuang) August 27, 2019
Today, Costco wholesale opened its first store in China. Shoppers in Shanghai had to wait 3 hours for a parking spot... pic.twitter.com/Z4uKpDXb54— Xi Chen (@xcyale) August 27, 2019
Hu Xijin, the editor in chief of the Global Times, pointed out that, contrary to President Trump's demand that US companies leave China and relocate back to America, Costco was moving ahead with its plans to expand within China.
"Such a grand opening can't be seen in other places," Hu said. The "Chinese market is crucial to American companies."
Instead of leaving China, US retail giant Costco opened its first Chinese store in Shanghai on Tuesday. Consumers waited in long queue to get inside the store. Such a grand opening can't be seen in other places. Chinese market is crucial to American companies. pic.twitter.com/93oGP1QOdf— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) August 27, 2019
Signs outside the store, located in the Minhang District of Shanghai, warned customers that they might have to wait three hours to park, and another two hours to pay for their goods.
According to CNBC, one nearby school sent out an advisory to parents, warning them that the dismissal of their students would be "severely delayed" that afternoon because of the Costco Grand Opening.
A local media outlet run by the Shanghai government advised shoppers to visit the store during "off-peak" hours and to "consume in a rational manner."
With the trade war between the US and China escalating, Costco announced last month that it would open its first store in China. Before that, it had first entered the country in 2014 by selling goods via an online store on Alibaba's Tmall.
Costco's blockbuster first day comes as other western retailers, including Amazon, Tesco and Carrefour, are retreating from China.
To be sure, Costco isn't the only company selling bulk goods in the Chinese market: Walmart's Sam's Club has been in China for about 20 years, and has about 24 stores across the country. Walmart said earlier this year that it plans to add 16 more location in mainland China by 2020.
According to one local media outlet that publishes in English, most shoppers said they loaded up on as many items as possible so they wouldn't have to come back.
When it opens on Wednesday, Costco said it will control the number of shoppers and limit the number to 2,000. That probably won't stop the crowds from swamping the store once again. There's been no word yet on the number of new memberships the company has sold, but judging by the response, the store has been a success.