YPN Advisory Board Member, Moses Hall, traveled to Shanghai, China, in early April to attend the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Retail Summit. Here is a recap of his first time experiencing China.
On Monday, April 3rd, I took the 14-hour flight to Shanghai, China, to attend the ICSC Retail Connections and China Retail Summit at the Shanghai Puxi Intercontinental Hotel. This annual conference is regarded as one of the industry’s most valued global trade associations for retail development. With nearly 70,000 members in more than 100 countries, the association is comprised of shopping center owners, developers, managers, marketing experts, investors, retailers, agents, academics and officials. The conference focuses on new trends in the development of the retail industry, new development opportunities worldwide, and arrangements for negotiation, docking, promotion, alongside an abundance of networking activities. Needless to say, I was very excited to participate and expand my knowledge!
Although I’ve traveled overseas a number of times, this was my first trip to China. Here are some takeaways of my personal experiences.
Places of Interest
The Yuyuan Garden
This was my favorite stop in the city as I was able to experience and capture the rich culture of the city. The “Yu” Garden is a 400 year-old oasis and the most famous garden in Shanghai. You get to see the longstanding architecture from the Ming and Qing Dynasty. There were many shops on the grounds and tons of people on-site admiring its beauty. This is one of Shanghai’s “must visit” places and with good reason.
Shanghai A.P. Xinyang Fashion & Gifts Market
The market is located inside of the metro station on Line 2. This was the area to find good quality, yet inexpensive fashion finds. Although you should prepare yourself for very aggressive shop owners trying to sell you products, you can definitely bargain any price down. I also quickly learned to never agree to the first two price quotes they give you. They will always negotiate with you, which we accomplished numerically via my handy dandy iPhone calculator. Many of the sales reps understood minimal English, such as, “how much,” “no deal” and “okay.”
China keeps their rich culture alive with traditional customs but I definitely noticed they continue to add a modern flare to new architecture, skyscrapers and interior design.
Political freedom isn’t the same as it is in the United States. Facebook and Google are restricted in certain areas of China. The internet runs slowly at certain times of the day in areas that it is allowed, including the Wi-Fi at my four-star hotel.
I was able to get around Shanghai via their vast and extensive train line. Originally from New York, I was already familiar with using a number system on trains. The train system allowed me to conveniently explore the city. However, I learned not to expect a seat. Their trains are usually overcrowded and they typically jam themselves into the railcars. Your personal space will definitely be overtaken, as I was shoulder to shoulder each time I rode. Each fare depends on the distance of your trip, but each ride was relatively cheap. It cost me less than $1 US dollar for an hour and half train ride. By comparison, I took a cab from the airport to my hotel and that was $14 US dollars for an hour ride, which was ¥ 100 CNY (100 Chinese Yuans).
As with any foreign country, I had to quickly learn the basics of the language in order to get around. I attempted to use the help of Google translator to speak a little Mandarin. However, this turned out to be very difficult for me. So naturally, I resorted to using a lot of non-verbal communication, which actually worked really well. This included pointing at things and making hand gestures which many quickly understood. Also, there are a lot of people who speak English. I noticed this more and more within the millennial generation since English is taught in Shanghai’s schools.
What I Learned During the Conference
During the conference, I learned in-depth takeaways regarding how retail continues to drive economic growth. The overall message was retail is NOT dead, contrary to recent reports.
I also took advantage of the on-site studies of retail malls, including three of the most popular malls in the city. This was one of my favorite tours on the trip.
Shanghai ifc Mall is in the Pudong Lujiazui financial hub, located in the downtown area and offers more than 240 internationally-renowned luxury brands and flagship stores, such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani and Cartier.
Jinmao Shanghai, known as J-LIFE, is located at the central business district core of Lujiazui Shanghai. This mall opened in 2005 and it serves as the first business retail commercial center. It aims to meet business needs, social attractions and other demands of the wealthy in Lujiazui.
Vanke Mall is located in Shanghai Minhang District. As a shopping center in the southwest of Shanghai, this mall provides an excellent entertainment experience. This includes a 4-D movie theater and an NBA franchise basketball court owned by Yao Ming.
I love how Shanghai is integrating technology with their culture and shopping experience, especially through WeChat, which is one of the most popular social messaging apps in the country. Retailers are focused more on the shopping experience and social dynamics to help combat online shopping. One cool feature that they will begin to offer is large, easy-to-use in-store touch screens. Items chosen on the touch screens will be swiftly delivered to the dressing rooms. In addition, dressing rooms will be equipped with high-tech mirrors that can dim light and have embedded touch screens where more products can be suggested and directly ordered to the dressing room, allowing a more pleasant and convenient shopping experience.
Food was a complete adjustment. Chinese food in Shanghai is completely different from American Chinese food, which I expected. However, there’s nothing like experiencing this difference first hand. Let’s just say there was much more variety with the meat options. I did find recognizable restaurants such as McDonald’s and KFC, and although there were some familiar items on the menu, the overall selection was different from the U.S.
My overall experience in China was enlightening. I love going to a new country and “figuring it out.” The city reminds me of my hometown of New York City. There are very populated, busy streets, along with a lively night life. The weather was in the ’60s and cloudy and rainy for my duration there. Still, I would love to go back and explore more cities and dive deeper into the rich culture of China.
Thank you for allowing me to share my experience with you…or, in other words, “xiè xie.”
Author: Moses Hall, Senior Investment Specialist, Miller Chicago