Beijing Wal-Mart

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:

  1. They sell live turtles.
  2. A whole display case is devoted to sea cucumbers.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. The refrigerators were hidden behind large stacks of what looked like flour.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

25 Responses to “Beijing Wal-Mart”

  1. Glen Raphael Says:

    Yep, I always bought luggage in China. Although nowadays I think you can find pretty similar stuff for not *that* much more in your local chinatown area in the US.

    Regarding the personal service component in #8, I have two suggestions: (1) get a haircut. (2) buy a pair of jeans. The haircut is likely to be cheap *and* include a significant massage component. If you buy jeans, there is likely to be somebody there who will tailor them on the spot for you for free while you wait – hem, inseam, any change you might expect from someone selling suits here, but this is on a $25 pair of jeans with immediate turnaround.

  2. Aaron Blaisdell Says:

    “I got tired of sampling and stopped. I can’t remember that happening before.”

    I’ll say! When we’ve gone to farmer’s markets together, I was amazed at how many samples you consumed. I thought you’d get full by the end of the shopping trip.

    I agree with Glen. I bought a baby stroller in Hong Kong and though it wasn’t cheap, it was at least half the price of a comparable stroller in the US. And it was very well designed, light, compact, and durable (we’re currently using it with our second child and it’s held up the best of all of our strollers).

    I also second Glen’s suggestion to get a hair cut. I love getting a hair cut in Hong Kong (in the Chinese areas where my wife’s family live). It’s almost like a mini spa treatment. I get pampered, including a long hair wash with a soothing scalp massage. And the prices are dirt cheap! You may have to ask for the massage to ensure that you get one.

  3. The Writing On The Wal » Blog Archive » FROM AN AMERICAN IN BEIJING… Says:

    [...] We haven’t heard much from China in recent months. Blogger Seth shares his list of eleven interesting features he observed at the Walmart in Beijing, China, while in search for a new (cheap plastic?) refrigerator. My favorites is No. 9: 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. [...]

  4. Mike Says:

    Chinese Walmart (Wer-mah) is so much better than American Walmart. The only downside when I was there two years ago was the paltry toy section, which I’m sure they’ve improved. Who’d think Walmart dim sum would kick so much ass. And they have a liquor section!

  5. The Writing On The Wal » Blog Archive » At Walmart in China, they still cut meat in house. Says:

    [...] Yes, I know Jeff beat me to this, but I still want to write about my favorite: 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. [...]

  6. marc Says:

    There are lots of tandem or even three-at-once (in a single direction) escalators in hong kong. I think maybe there is a 6 laner (at least!) in Central MTR station. Brilliantly, the directions of the escalators changes depending on usage patterns — may be balanced 3/3 or 4/2, or sometimes one or two are turned off. This paradigm is used throughout Hong Kong, especially on the 3-laners where 2 are going one way and 1 is going the other.

  7. The Writing On The Wal » Blog Archive » BAD PRODUCTS… BAD WALMART… Says:

    [...] Yesterday Jonathan and I both took note of Seth’s 11 interesting finds in the Beijing Walmart. Today at Mental Floss, Ethan Trex notes 11 things Walmart has banned. But what I found amazing is what Trex missed; what should have been No. 1. [...]

  8. Erika Says:

    Mexico-Walmart had free vodka samples. And booze galore.

  9. Laolao Says:

    Walmart is doing fine in China, I guess, except when beating the customer (or was it a shoplifter?) to death.

    See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8244561.stm

    The news has more or less been silenced. If you google the event from Beijing, you’ll find the links to news stories about this blocked.

    Anyway, I’ll abstain from shopping at Walmart.

  10. Stephen M (Ethesis) Says:

    That was really interesting, as is the fact that the newer Wal-Marts are very convenient in location (e.g. several in Plano where I live).

    Interesting how things evolve.

  11. lee Says:

    I think the selection at Wal-mart in China is terrible. The clothes are too small
    and they don’t even have simple things like aspirin, mustard, french dressing, croutons, pickles, waffles, measuring cups, deodorant, syrup, Kool Aid, Frito’s, pita bread, English muffins, bagels, hot dog buns, taco shells, root beer, or
    all-purpose flour. Parents in China allow kids to pee and poop on the floor
    of stores, too.

  12. seth Says:

    Lee, until I got to the last sentence I thought you were joking. I have never seen a kid pee or poop on the floor at a store (in the street, yes) but you clearly know more about this than I do. There are no measuring cups anywhere, not just Wal-Mart. There is a huge selection of pickles (perhaps 30 kinds) at the Beijing Wal-Mart but they don’t look like American pickles. As for the baked goods, they have a big selection.

  13. Janne Says:

    The Walmart I visited in China had western toiletries and some foods, but for very high price. The only negative was the luggage I bought from there for $20 or so broke on it’s maiden voyage.

  14. JJC Says:

    Yes, in the USA the Wal-Marts are very much inconveniently located if you are a backpacker or (caution 70′s lingo ahead) a hippie type on foot! As a red blooded, job working, wage earning, tax paying, car driving American I thank God everyday for this… LMAO!

    Now if they can on figure out how to keep out the 17 other catagories of undesirable shoppers I would be in heaven. Hopefully they will not go to the 18th catagory, because that includes me… LMAO

    I love visiting American chains overseas, regardless of the type of business. It is very interesting to take note of how the service and or merchandise is tweaked to suit the local taste and or cultural norms. You can learn a lot about a local culture this way because you have a mental baseline to measure the deviation.

    Because of this I am now so curious I am going to visit the Beijing Wal-Mart this afternoon and have a look around!

    Any Costcos in the area? Loved visiting them in Taiwan and comparing.

  15. Seth’s blog » Blog Archive » Beijing Subway Security in Action Says:

    [...] Have I told you about the time I took a cleaver on the Beijing Subway? The Beijing Subway has security: They screen all bags. It started before the Olympics and, after the Olympics ended, kept going. At Wal-Mart, I bought a cleaver/cutting board/chopstick set (enclosed in plastic), put it in my laptop bag, and entered the subway. I was stopped. The cleaver had shown up on the scanner screen. The guard was pleasant and after I showed her what it was I was quickly sent on my way. [...]

  16. madmilker Says:

    People in America need to realize jus what got America in this shape…”cheap” yes so-call cheap items from a foreign land.

    quote*Wal-Mart firmly believes in local procurement. We recognize that by purchasing quality products, we can generate more job opportunities, support local manufacturing and boost economic development. Over 95% of the merchandise in our stores in China is sourced locally. We have established partnerships with nearly 20,000 suppliers in China. *end quote!

    Now! if there be 182 country’s making items for the world to buy and they have only 5% of the pie in China…duh! This company makes the nice people of China support their currency(yuan) by keeping it in their country working for the people there…. but with the “yuan” going up in value and the US dollar going down…all the foreign items that the American consumer buys thinking it is cheap has went up in price.

    People…its all about the currency and to keep a currency strong you got to keep it floating around the country you live in so it can work for you. For the past 12 years all them US dollars are being shipped overseas to a foreign bank and with the American worker not making anything for the foreigner to buy the “we the people” have to turn to the “second” largest employer in America(Uncle Sam) to sell “we the people” debt in order to get all them dollars back!

    50 years ago a foreigner would had given their left nut for a US dollar or a Hershey’s chocolate bar and today the same foreigner has got Uncle Sam and the American consumer by both all the while Hershey is moving the chocolate factory to Mexico. Wake up! America and think “MADE IN AMERICA.”

    quote*”Considering that there are over 30,000 ships at sea this morning,” writes James Carlton, director of the Williams College-Mystic Seaport Maritime Studies Program, in an e-mail, “the total number of organisms and species in this global ‘bioflow’ on the morning your readers read your piece could be staggering – billions of individuals, and thousands of species.”

    Indeed, scientists have long considered ballast water the primary way invasive aquatic organisms are introduced. From the zebra mussel’s arrival in the Great Lakes, to an American jellyfish severely disrupting Black Sea fisheries, the potential costs of accidental introduction of a species to new homes can be tremendous. Aquatic invasives cost the US $9 billion yearly, according to estimates by David Pimentel, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Zebra and quagga mussels (a cousin to the zebra) alone cost the $1 billion annually.*end quote!

    tat is $9 billion a year in hidden taxes to all Americans…
    cheap ain’t chic and it cost America…………jobs!

  17. ... Says:

    Lee, I agree! It is shocking for a Wal-Mart in China not have name brand Western products prominently displayed.

    It’s almost like those things aren’t universal staples.

  18. clarissa Says:

    Hi Seth; I came upon your website after I googled the words “Walmart in Beijing” along with “subway” and just dropped by to read what your blog had to say about it. I was just wondering, what’s the nearest metro/subway station for any branch of Wal-mart in Beijing (preferably the one nearest the Tiannamen West subway station)? I am currently on a holiday here till Tuesday afternoon and would like to since it did not mention in this particular entry. Would appreciate any info. Thanls on adv. and keep blogging :)

  19. seth Says:

    The Walmart I visited is one stop south of Wudaokou on the #13 line. It’s right next to the station. I think the station is called Zhichunlu but I’m not sure about that.

  20. slimdrea Says:

    Great read!

    I’ve just moved to Beijing and am sooo excited to go to Walmart today. I am a born and raised New Yorker who only got to visit Walmarts a few times a year when I went out of state. I can’t believe now that I live on the other side of the world, I have one so readily available to me. This will be added to my list of reasons why I am loving Beijing (I am sure after my honeymoon period I will have an accompanying list of reason why I don’t like Beijing too…hehe).

    Thanks!

  21. marcus Says:

    Does Walmart in Beijing accept American Express credit cards? I’ve been here for quite some time now and am still finding difficulty finding stores accepting american express.

  22. Seth Roberts Says:

    I doubt that Beijing Walmart accepts American Express. At Walmart, I used a debit card from a Chinese bank.

  23. Dew Says:

    AE is not accepted in a lot of places worldwide because AE’s charging a lot more than other credit cards. But local bank cards are accepted everywhere and even in HK.

  24. Dew Says:

    But where can you get a good refrigerator in Beijing anyway? We just moved here from Canada and desperately need a good size fridge and a oven / microwave but can’t find a reasonable usable one

  25. Seth Roberts Says:

    Looking for a refrigerator? Try an appliance store, such as Goma.