Will China’s ‘Street Stalls’ boom again?

Published Nov 20, 2020

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Street Stalls were a once essential part of everyday life in China, we undertook a study to better understand their role in today’s Chinese economy.

Like many countries around the globe that have been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been a great focus on local economies. China has seen an interest in revitalizing Street Stalls to support various aspects of the economy. Insights from KuRunData, a Toluna company, indicate that there could be a strong argument from consumers in supporting Street Stalls.

If you have ever visited China, you wouldn’t miss the Street Stalls. They are everywhere. Some areas have many of them, some have just a few, but the Street Stalls are and always have been a huge part of the Chinese economy. However, because the Street Stalls have also long been considered something of a holdover from the less economically developed China and have experienced a decline in sales over the past few decades.

Most provinces and many city authorities haven’t been welcoming Street Stalls as they contrast the image of a modern nation that China is working to build. Street Stalls have also been negatively impacted by the rapid growth of modern retail and e-commerce, especially from young generations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way both authorities and consumers view Street Stalls. In the early summer of this year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for the revival of the “Street Stall economy”, emphasizing that street vendors can provide affordable goods, especially food, and create employment opportunities.

To get an idea of whether the Street Stalls have a chance to boom again, we surveyed 1275 stalls’ consumers in 29 provinces and regions to see why and what they buy from the stalls and how they view the street vendors—and what street vendors should do to stay in business.

Why do people buy from the stalls?

We found the top three reasons people buy from the stalls are that the goods are cheap and a good value, they are attracted by goods the stalls sell, and the stalls selling the product or food they want.

Therefore, to keep going, the Street Stalls need to meet at least two criteria – 1) the stalls need to offer inexpensive, yet high-value products and 2) the stalls need to sell items that people want.

What do people buy from the stalls?

The study revelated that people mostly buy pre-made meals, fruit, and food (to cook at home). These were followed by fashion accessories, handmade goods, socks, daily necessities, toys, and clothing.

There is an old Chinese saying: “If you want to do well, you must first sharpen your tools.” Those vendors who know their buyers’ needs, thoughtfully choose the appropriate profitable products, and have the expertise and the required skills, will most likely be successful.

The pre-made meal business relies on cooking skills and the ability to develop a popular menu. While fruit stall owners need to have suppliers of high-quality products, yet reasonably priced, to stay in business. Selling fashion accessories is a volatile undertaking because fashion trends change very quickly. Those who sell handmade goods, socks, daily necessities, and toys should prioritize choosing good suppliers and need to stock original products that consumers cannot find in retail stores. Those who sell clothing, hats, and apparel need to control the purchase channels, profit margins, and product quality while following market trends.

What is needed for sustainable development of the revived street stall economy?

There is no doubt that Street Stalls contribute a lot to urban vitality. During the long history of China, street vendors always played an important role in city life, bringing convenience and entertainment for the local communities that cannot be replaced by supermarkets or e-commerce.

However many Street Stalls are dirty, messy and unclean, and they make the city look somewhat unappealing.

So, for the Street Stalls to boom again, the physical appearance needs to organically complement the look of modern China. It also requires a great deal of investment and efforts from central government and local authorities to develop street businesses by setting up and implementing the regulating policies and protecting the interests of both street vendors and consumers.

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