As China looks to get back to some sort of normal in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, “revenge spending” has become all the rage. With millions of people in China’s major cities having spent at least several weeks confined to apartments, some are keen to open their wallets again as much as open their front doors. That’s perhaps one reason why Hermès’ Guangzhou flagship store reportedly took in 2.7 million USD in one day this past weekend.
While this may seem like good news for shops and restaurants that have seen business battered by the pandemic and China’s subsequent control measures, some brands are finding that “revenge spending” can cause a new set of headaches.
As Haidilao, a popular hotpot chain, started to reopen its restaurants in February, netizens noticed several ingredients had surreptitiously gone up in price, seemingly by an average of around 6%. Naturally, hotpot-deprived Chinese citizens were not happy. After many took to social media to express their outrage over the price hikes, Haidilao apologized on social media and promised to put prices back to what they were pre-Covid-19. According to the statement, the price hike was “a bad decision on behalf of company management.”
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Soon after, northwestern cuisine-themed restaurant chain Xibei followed suit. Netizens were quick to forgive, praising Haidilao and Xibei for making the tough decision. Upvoted comments on Haidilao’s post read: “This is the customer-oriented Haidilao I know” (you can famously get your nails done while waiting in line there), and “Ok, you are forgiven.”
However, one restaurant still caught in angry consumers’ crosshairs is Hey Tea, a Guangdong-based tea chain that is credited with starting the cheese foam craze of 2017.
After Hey Tea raised the price of five drinks by 2RMB (0.30USD), netizens have been putting the pressure on Hey Tea to follow Haidilao’s example. Currently, the hashtag #MilkTeaNowCosts30RMBWillYouEverDrinkAgain? lamenting the advent of the “30RMB milk tea era” has over 460 million hits on the Twitter-like Chinese social media platform Weibo.
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The hashtag has people seriously swearing off bubble tea in protest. According to a Weibo poll asking whether they’d drink bubble tea again, over a million people chose “No, I’ve been put off by the price increase.”
The comments under Hey Tea’s most recent post are pretty straightforward: “Haidilao apologized, when will your price be adjusted back?” reads one. “Haidilao cut prices, little baby, what do you say?” implores another.
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Wait til they find out how much Xi’an Famous Foods is charging for their chili oil….
It seems that, faced with such intense public scrutiny, Haidilao and Xibei had no choice but to back down. However, restaurant chains across China are struggling to recover from the loss of profit during the quarantine period. According to the China Times (link in Chinese), Haidilao lost on average 80 million RMB (about 11 million USD) for every day of lockdown, with a total loss of over 1.1 billion RMB (156 million USD). Against such a stark backdrop, eventual price rises seem inevitable, though they may need to be more stealthily implemented in future.
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