Struggling with unemployment rising and an economic tightening due to the aftermath of coronavirus pandemic, street stalls have been revived in China to keep people in work and to stimulate the economy. Just last month, officials said that street stalls were an essential source for creating opportunities. Li Keqiang, China’s premier, publicly called for jobless workers in the country to establish a “stall economy” to help improve the country’s economic standing.
With the country facing its worst economic slump in decades, resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, street selling was a way to provide employment for lower-skilled employees, many of whom are rural migrant workers, to keep businesses going and to avoid the loss of more jobs. Even large businesses like Alibaba, JD, and Tencent developed local economic support plans. As a result of their efforts to support street vendors, share prices of certain stocks rose, particularly those related to shopping center operators, manufacturers of outdoor umbrellas, and automakers of pickup trucks that could be converted into mobile stores. However, based on history, the news about street selling to support China’s economy was surprising and unexpected.
In the 1980s, street vendors were viewed as a sign of the country’s growing market economy. In the 1990s, they were promoted to help with unemployment from mass layoffs as state-owned companies privatized. Eventually, they were perceived as antiquated and pushed out in an effort to modernize China’s urban areas and improve the country’s appearance. As expected, there were varying views of bringing back street stalls. Some believed because China is a nation with high-tech factories and large, successful companies, it did not align with the country’s aspiration to be a technological superpower and could even harm its image.
Others believed the street stall economy could be beneficial and more than just a temporary solution to the current economic situation because it allowed workers the flexibility to run their own stands rather than be confined to constraints of working in a factory. It also enabled farmers and small entrepreneurs unable to compete with big shopping malls to supplement their incomes.
Additionally, the impact of street stalls could go beyond just providing inexpensive goods to lower-income workers. Many vendors help to sell merchandise from major wholesalers and suppliers, like electronics and clothing, which in turn helps the factories that supply these goods. Other goods sold on the streets or in mobile stalls include food, toys, jewelry, handmade crafts, and all types of wares. To help promote sales, some cities lured vendors to their streets. Photos of streets crowded with stalls went viral on Weibo.
Chinese media shared stories about street sellers who became successful, citing famous entrepreneurs like Jack Ma, co-founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, who sold handiworks on the street to pay the rent for his first business. While street stalls could not only help restart China’s economy, it could have long-term and lasting effects. However, some regulations may be necessary, like where selling on the street is allowed, guidelines for food safety, and consequences for violations.
For those setting up a booth or renting space, they have to carefully manage logistics like evaluating location, tracking others selling competing goods, and targeting traffic as well as overall costs. As to the outcome street selling will have on the economy, it is too soon to know and time will tell. For some people out of work, it is having an immediate impact.
Common Sense Market On Saturday, June 20th, near the HKRI Taikoo Hui’s North Piazza (near the Starbucks Roastery Reserve), a flea market event called Common Sense Market took place. There were many stalls selling all kinds of goods, ranging from food and beverages to handmade jewelry and imported goods. In the middle of the event, people were singing, playing instruments, and enjoying themselves. One vendor selling organic dog food stood out because it had three dogs at the stall. In an effort to attract shoppers, bringing dogs was a brilliant marketing strategy to promote their product. It was a successful tactic because most of the pedestrians stopped to see the dogs bought their products.
Another stall that was attention-grabbing was selling products brought from Japan. Because they were selling all kinds of interesting department store items, such as uniquely designed kitchen gadgets, they chose this market full of creativity and inspiration to showcase their imported goods. It was also a leisurely Saturday when the market was crowded, and guests received the coupons for the shop. Another pleasant feature of the market was a coffee shop set up on the second floor for customers to relax while shopping. Common Sense Market started in the morning, but most people visited in the afternoon because it was a working day for most people. The original prices for the products at the market were not shared, because of confidentiality. While the market is open Saturday and Sunday, it was canceled on Sunday because of heavy rain, which is one downside to street markets. There will be more during the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival.