China's first Costco limits shoppers after launch chaos

Above: People jostling to get roast chicken at the first Costco outlet in China, which opened on Tuesday. Right: Large crowds had flocked to the store in Shanghai forcing the US retailer to close early on the opening day.
People queuing to check out at the first Costco outlet in China, on the store's opening day in a Shanghai suburb, on Tuesday. China has proved a tough battleground for overseas food etailers, with French supermarket Carrefour and British grocery giant Tesco having already failed. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
People queuing to check out at the first Costco outlet in China, on the store's opening day in a Shanghai suburb, on Tuesday. China has proved a tough battleground for overseas food retailers, with French supermarket Carrefour and British grocery gia
People jostling to get roast chicken at the first Costco outlet in China, which opened on Tuesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Above: People jostling to get roast chicken at the first Costco outlet in China, which opened on Tuesday. Right: Large crowds had flocked to the store in Shanghai forcing the US retailer to close early on the opening day.
Large crowds had flocked to the store in Shanghai forcing the US retailer to close early on the opening day.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SHANGHAI • Costco Wholesale yesterday said it will limit the number of shoppers at its first China store after overcrowding forced the US big box retailer to close early on the opening day.

No more than 2,000 shoppers at any given time will be allowed into the store in a Shanghai suburb, and police will help to improve the flow of traffic in the area, it said. Huge crowds had flocked to the store when it opened on Tuesday, causing traffic jams in the area.

Viral images online showed shoppers clambering to get in, jostling to snag roast chicken and other meats, and waiting in huge lines to check out.

"We'd like to apologise for the inconvenience caused to our members on our warehouse opening day in Shanghai," Costco said in a statement on WeChat, the Chinese social media platform.

It pledged to send text messages to members when the store was nearing capacity or if there are long wait times.

Snaking queues and frenzied buying are not uncommon when new stores open in China. Consumers lined up for hours to buy hamburgers at Shake Shack when it opened its first China store in Shanghai earlier this year.

German supermarket chain Aldi also experienced long lines of shoppers when it opened two stores in Shanghai in June.

Analysts warn that Costco faces a tough ride in China's food retail sector as it looks to succeed where several global retailers, such as French supermarket Carrefour and British grocery giant Tesco, have failed.

Costco's move also comes at a challenging time, with Beijing and Washington engaged in a tense trade war that is making American firms wary of investing in the largest Asian economy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2019, with the headline 'China's first Costco limits shoppers after launch chaos'. Print Edition | Subscribe