When I first arrived in China I walked into a department store. We were setting up our home and needed a few items. I had already had moments of culture shock learning some of the ways that we needed to shop. We were in the capital city and I expected stores to have everything. So walking into this store and wandering around I could not find what I was looking for. I walked up to the first worker I saw and asked if they had coffee pots. Granted my Chinese speaking ability was pretty rough but she smiled and said they didn’t have any. You see what I didn’t realize is that in a Chinese department store every aisle is set up for a different brand name. So when I asked the woman standing in the aisle with sheets and pillows if the store had coffee pots, she was answering that her aisle and the name brand she represented (sheets and pillows) did not have any coffee pots. You can see my frustration as I walked away and found coffee pots three aisles over. This was one of the first of many lessons that asking the right questions is important. Fast forward 13 years and we still see stores grouping items by name brand but the items are also in the same area of the store. Today I can find coffee pots of many brands all in the same area. My western mind thinks of this as progress but I do wonder how many Chinese are confused at why things have changed. I believe identity (brand names) in a market of items that are often the same is what separates quality from reproductions. In this country, a brand name usually equates with high standards and (sometimes) with items that will last. I thought of this story as I read a book this week about large companies, brands, and the influence they have on each of us.
Do you ever wish you could go back in time and buy stock in a company that becomes highly successful? Maybe we could even get to know the founder before they start their company and be on the ground level of a major corporation. Galloways 326 page rant against the four major companies he apparently wished he could have been apart of or has some investment in was a little hard for me to read. It was packed with some interesting stories and a few relevant points on how we need to be aware of corporations that are not only influencing our life habits but also are invading our homes, computers and thinking. None of this surprised me probably because we all live in countries that track our online search habits, have companies that put cameras within your TV to be able to broadcast video of what is happening in your home or that social media companies take and sell all the information that we willingly put on line. One good reads reviewer wrote that following, “Glad this book was a very short read, since it’s not worth much of anyone’s time…Galloway’s writing style is insufferable, and right off the bat in the introduction demonstrates himself to be an egomaniac misogynist who has a chip on his shoulder for everything wrong that has happened to him over the course of his career…”1. His use of profanity and the tone of the book just felt as though I was listening to a middle school complain about getting their feelings hurt. I loved this quote because it just made me laugh at the absurdity, “Drive a Porsche, even at fifty-five miles an hour, and you feel more attractive — and more likely to have a random sexual experience. Since men are wired to procreate aggressively, the caveman in us hungers for that Rolex, or Lamborghini — or Apple. And the caveman, thinking with his genitals, will sacrifice a lot for the chance to impress.” 2 I did feel this was more Galloway’s self confession than anything else.
As I was reading about Amazon and its strategy I kept thinking about a company here in China called Alibaba (maybe Galloway’s “fifth horseman”). Many have called it the amazon of China. Chief creative officer Chris Tung says, “It’s very different from the Amazon model, We don’t buy products from brands, we don’t buy and sell and take a margin….We service as a marketplace, a bridge between the seller and the buyer, through data-–$550 billion US worth of gross merchandise value a year. The largest commerce platform on Earth. It’s bigger than Walmart. Much bigger than Amazon.” Tung goes on to suggest that if we want to make analogies, he thinks of Alibaba as a combination of Google, Facebook, and Amazon, in one.3
Forbes Magazine says “Simply put, Alibaba’s business model is more profitable than that of Amazon, due to a key difference in the ways the two companies approach and monetize e-commerce. Amazon’s approach in the United States was essentially to move the “Walmart economy” online..Alibaba’s approach, by contrast, is to bring collective entrepreneurship online, a network business model that turns the vendors who list their products with its Taobao site to entrepreneurs… similar to eBay’s model”4
The world of business and the size and scope of corporations are beyond my way of thinking. I was reading this week that the owner of Alibaba was being criticized by the west at being a Communist party member. The article was trying to rally people against but also admitted the China watchers were not concerned. I smiled reading this knowing every major business owner in China is a party member. This is a matter of pride and honor for the country. The successful are raised up and promoted as the example for the whole country. Jack Ma, (cofounder of Alibaba and wealthiest man in China) is seen by his countryman as the prime example of what the great communist Chinese economy can produce. With our eyes open to the influence these companies can and do have upon our lives we can participate in the services they provide knowing that our spending habits and search history of also glorifying to the one that will endure them all.
1 https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34427200-the-four. Accessed November 30, 2018
2 Galloway, Scott. The Four. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. p. 68
3http://www.sohu.com/a/153749482_653517. Accessed November 28, 2018
amazon/#682d60fa1678 accessed November 28, 2018