27 Apr 2012

#2 World Largest Mall~~Golden Resources Mall, China

Shared... Beijing's Mega Mall by Rebecca Karnak 

 I do not usually enjoy shopping. In China—with the crowds, the multiple steps needed to check out, and the infinite choices of things to buy—I dread it even more. But when I heard that Beijing had opened the largest standalone shopping structure in the world, I had to investigate. Until recently, Beijing's 6 million sq ft Golden Resources Shopping Mall was the world's largest. (Guangdong's 6.5 million sq ft South China Mall opened this spring.) Opened in October 2004, Golden Resources still easily tops the largest mall in the United States—Minnesota's 4.2 million sq ft Mall of America—as well as the largest mall in North America, the 5.3 million sq ft West Edmonton Mall in Canada. Today, China has more than 400 malls. Deloitte Research estimates that 7 of the world's 10 largest malls will be in China by 2010.
At the start of my investigation, I hopped in a cab near Beijing's Jianguomenwai subway station, and the driver sped up the Second Ring Road toward Golden Resources in Haidian District. After almost half an hour, the driver wound his way through the narrow, tree-lined streets near Beijing Foreign Studies University and entered a wide street lined with new apartments and office buildings. Approaching the mall as the driver did, I was not as overwhelmed by its size as I thought I would be. Golden Resources is a compact, five-story building with neatly arranged shops that run east-to-west. I paid my ¥40 ($5) cab fare and stepped inside.
My first stop was a jewelry counter, an island between rows of shops. I looked at a few mid-priced gray pearls and braced myself to be greeted by an overenthusiastic sales assistant. When no one approached me, I looked up to see a young female sales assistant at the opposite counter talking to her friends, presumably the sales assistants selling silver bracelets next door. Being ignored by the sales assistant was a refreshing switch from being accosted by pushy vendors at Beijing's Silk Market and elsewhere. The scene felt familiar, as if it could happen at a mall in Cleveland, my hometown.
But as I walked past watch shops, cafes, women's clothing stores, and plenty of advertisements for brands such as Gucci, DKNY, and Fendi, I realized that most of the other sales assistants weren't jumping up to greet the few customers strolling by on this late Sunday afternoon either. In a city of roughly 14 million residents, I expect crowds at most public places on Sunday afternoons. But after more than a half year in operation, Golden Resources has yet to attract the number of customers it will need to stay profitable. In fact, I turned one corner of the mall to discover two people playing badminton. 

The stores in that section of the mall had not opened yet, and the couple was taking advantage of the open space. Once I hit Toysmart on the fourth floor, though, I found signs of commercial life. Kids were running around, testing out scooters their parents had yet to purchase. Down the hall were two different playgrounds for children and their families that charged by the hour for jungle gym access. The adult playgrounds are on the mall's fifth floor: Stellar International Cinema, which has seven screens, and the Century Club, a health and fitness center. Making my way back down through each level, I came across shops neatly arranged by product sold. I passed three consecutive shops selling treadmills, wondering which one would go out of business first, before entering an area of sporting goods stores. For the first time in Beijing, I found authentic North Face gear, and the Nike and Adidas stores also carried the real deal. Many of the products I saw, though, including the treadmills and the ¥32 ($4) fruit smoothie I purchased at a kiosk, are luxury items for the average Beijinger.
Golden Resources' 1,000 stores, 230 escalators, and 10,000 free parking spaces seem like nothing in comparison to its rival's facilities. Guangdong's South China Mall boasts theme parks, pyramids, giant windmills, a 1.3-mile river, and an 85-foot replica of the Paris Arc de Triomphe. These large, high-end malls might not be the most profitable model for China, however. Even though China's middle class is growing, and urbanites have more money to spend than ever, China is generally a country of savers.
 According to the People's Daily, Chinese citizens have spent, on average, only 60 percent of their incomes over the past 10 years, while the world average has been 78 percent. Walking through Golden Resources makes clear that China either has too many malls or that prices are still too high for many customers. Most likely it is a combination of both. Golden Resources has not attracted a large foreign crowd yet either, mostly because of the mall's location in northwestern Beijing outside of Third Ring Road—far from the city's foreign enclaves. I did not see a single foreign face or hear a foreign language in the hour and a half I spent shopping that Sunday afternoon. Moreover, none of the stores I visited accepted foreign credit cards. In contrast, in many stores at the Oriental Plaza and China World malls in the center of the city, no one bats an eye when a customer hands over a Visa card from a foreign bank.
But once the newly built apartments and office centers around the mall are occupied, Golden Resources will have plenty of Haidian residents to serve, including the many wealthy employees of China's Silicon Valley, Zhongguancun, and other Beijing districts. Currently, many bus lines run to and from Golden Resources, but the subway gets customers only part way there (shoppers must take a bus from the Gongzhufen subway stop). Under Beijing's 2008 subway plan, the nearest subway stop will be Wanliu, less than a mile away. When the new subway lines are completed, all of Beijing might flock to Golden Resources on a hot summer day, even if only for the air conditioning—or perhaps to show support for one more record-breaking Chinese achievement.

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