Wednesday, July 25, 2007

We apologise for the 'Inconvenients'

One of the most galling things about the plague of so-called 'Convenient Stores' that has broken out across Beijing and Shanghai in the last few years is that they are so inappropriately named.

Amongst the less-than-convenient things about them:

1) Their hours of opening are never very clear. These days, most of them are 24-hour, but quite a few are still "7-11" - approximately. Actually, a lot of them just seem to open and close when they feel like it. There was a "7-11" next to my apartment building for a while which seldom opened before 8.30 or 9 in the morning (which is uncommonly late for this country!), and invariably shut up shop again rather before 10pm. It's not entirely surprising that its business was so weak, and that it closed for good after a year or so.

2) They rarely stock anything you'd actually want to buy. In particular, almost none of them carry milk - although this is now becoming a popular product with the Chinese also, and can be found in any regular supermarket, the 'convenient' stores for some reason disdain it.

3) The tills run out of change remarkably frequently. This is particularly likely to happen at the exact moment that you walk up to the counter to pay for something. Where the store has more than one till (most of them these days have two), it is entirely probable that both tills will run out of money at the same time. When the till or tills run out of change, it will take an undisclosed amount of time (but never less than 10 minutes) to fetch more money from the back of the shop. There will never be any sense of hurry-up about this operation. There will never be any explanation or apology for the delay.

4) Inputting new stock codes into electronic tills takes upwards of an hour a day. Staff expect you to wait while this is happening.

5) Stock-taking takes upwards of two hours a day. During this operation the store's doors remain open, but the staff will refuse to serve you.

Yes, OK, I am especially bitter because most of these eccentricities were regular failings in the store next to my apartment. The staff there were so bloody useless, it really wasn't any kind of an asset to the neighbourhood at all. (Neither is the expensive baijiu & cigarettes store that has replaced it, but....) However, I have also observed these phenomena from time to time in many other stores of this type in China. 'Convenient' really doesn't seem to be le mot juste.

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