Nowadays, almost everything that the Chinese Central Television (CCTV) says backfires. After CCTV went after Apple for discriminate treatments of Chinese consumers and several foreign milk powder companies for price fixing earlier this year, criticism by this state-run media has pretty much become a reassurance of popularity and quality. So when CCTV accused Starbucks of having disproportionately higher prices in China than in other markets, the coffee chain’s China market executives are probably celebrating for the free advertising.
Most thought the criticism was groundless at best – in a country where the people have to pay more for housing, healthcare and education, it’s simply ridiculous for the government’s mouthpiece to go after an expensive cup of coffee. 作业本, popular account on Weibo, China’s Twitter, commented:
“We live in the world’s most expensive apartments, drive the world’s most expensive cars, see the world’s fastest growing gas prices, eat the world’s most unsafe foods, have the healthcare that would bankrupt most families with serious illnesses…You [CCTV] ignored all of the above and told me that the cup of coffee which I drink less than 5 times a year is the world’s most expensive. How funny!”
Instead of Starbucks, CCTV seems to have successfully put the Chinese government and its many monopolistic state-run enterprises under fire. Many called for investigations into why housing prices, cell phone plans and gas prices are so high in China, even when compared to western countries.
Netizen 丁来峰 asked: “CCTV is all over Starbucks for selling coffee at a few bucks higher in China. Fine, coffee isn’t a must-have in life. But a home is. Could CCTV please also fire at local governments who sell land at high prices? And everybody gets sick. Could CCTV please also fire at the profiteering healthcare system? Besides, we all use cell phones for calls and the Internet, and we all need gas for our automobiles. They all cost no less than in western countries. Could CCTV please also fire at state-run monopolies?”
In addition to the Chinese government, Lenovo seems to be another casualty of the Starbucks bashing. “Starbucks sells at higher prices in China than in the US because it’s an evil foreign brand. But why the hell does our own Chinese brand Lenovo also sell at higher prices in China than in the US? Take Thinkpad T420 for example, Costco has it for $1099.99, about RMB 6950 yuan. In China, Jingdong [a Chinese e-tailer] has it for as much as RMB 12399 yuan, and that’s after promotion. The original price of RMB 13399 yuan is almost twice as much as the price in the US.” Netizen 严锋 asked.
Chinese consumers show their support for Starbucks very directly – by going to its stores. For most of them, the coffee chain is selling more than just coffee, but also a lifestyle and an increasing acceptance of the coffee culture.
Not long after CCTV’s first attacks, netizen 刘春 snapped a picture at a Chinese airport, showing a long line in front of Starbucks. Another netizen 北京厨子 said: “To show my support, I will go to Starbucks for the entire week next week. COSTA [another popular coffee chain in China], I’m sorry.”