To buy a refrigerator, a friend suggested I try a store called Vollna, to which I found references online. When I got to the right subway station, however, no one had heard of it. She’d meant Wal-Mart. The Beijing Wal-Mart has many interesting features:
- They sell live turtles.
- A whole display case is devoted to sea cucumbers.
- Like any upscale American or Beijing supermarket, they have a sushi case. The prices are half what they’d be in America, but the pieces of fish are much thinner.
- They cut up meat in front of you. A whole pig was being butchered on a table. A roast duck was being sliced for packaging.
- They had pairs of escalators (actually sloped moving walkways) going in the same direction. For heavy traffic, I guess. I’ve never seen such a thing anywhere else.
- It’s extremely convenient, right next to a subway station. In America, as all Americans know, Wal-Marts are almost never convenient. Which is why I’ve been to an American Wal-Mart only twice, in spite of the large selection and low prices.
- The refrigerators were hidden behind large stacks of what looked like flour.
- After I bought a blood pressure monitor, the salesperson added batteries and showed me how to use it. Such product verification/education has happened before to me in Beijing, never in America.
- A staggering number of food samples. Maybe a hundred. Other Beijing supermarkets are like big-city American supermarkets; some have samples, some don’t. This was a full-court press. Every possible sample. The roast duck was the best, the yellow kiwi (sweeter than green kiwi) the most unusual. I got tired of sampling and stopped. I can’t remember that happening before.
- The prices were ordinary Chinese prices. Not unusually low. To bring flaxseed oil to China I’d bought a very large duffel bag from Land’s End, so large I had to drag it. (Which ruined it.) It cost $70 plus shipping. Wal-Mart had a more reasonably-sized large duffel bag, better-made and with wheels for $20. Ugh. It was the wheels, not available at Land’s End, rather than the $50 difference, that pissed me off. My too-heavy duffel bag was a pain in the butt because I had to drag it (at the same time carrying other luggage). This made me never want to shop in America again for anything I could get in China.
- Cigarettes are in a special booth off to the side. About 200 choices.
They can’t compete on price in China, of course. So my guess is that they are trying to compete on selection, convenience, and customer service (thus all the sampling). That you can return stuff was very clear.