Shoppers swamped Costco's Shanghai store during the opening day. Photo: AFP / Hector Retamal

Giant teddy bears flew off the shelves while televisions were quickly snapped up along with roast chickens.

In bizarre scenes, American retailer Costco was forced to close its doors over safety concerns during the launch of its first mainland China store.

Huge crowds of bargain-hunters flocked to the outlet in suburban Shanghai.

But it became so crowded that the massive warehouse chain had to issue a notice to customers on its official app. By early afternoon, Costco said it would no longer allow more shoppers in, citing an “overcrowding” situation.

Earlier in the day, frantic scenes took place as thousands of shoppers jostled to get their hands on everything from fresh meat to big-screen TVs and giant teddy bears.

“Due to overcrowding in the market, and in order to provide you with a better shopping experience, Costco will temporarily close on the afternoon of August 27. Please avoid coming,” the notification said.

In a text message, a Costco spokesman said the doors were shut to new incoming customers but those insides would be allowed to finish shopping.

Customers struggle to get to Costco’s food counter to buy roast chicken. Photo: AFP / Hector Retamal

Analysts had warned that Costco’s model would struggle in a market that has been tough on foreign food retailers.

But shoppers descended in droves as soon as the doors opened, prompting staff to move them into the store in phased groups to maintain order.

But they continued to flow in, leading to shopping cart gridlock throughout the outlet. Popular areas included the food section, where people scrambled to get their hands on meat and other produce.

Elsewhere, customers pushed and shoved for access to the freshly cooked rotisserie chickens as staff pleaded with buyers to form a line.

Outside, motorists complained on social media about three-hour waits to get into the store’s parking lot, while others stood for lengthy periods in 36-degree heat outside the outlet hoping to get in.

Giant teddy bears were in huge demand during Costco’s launch in Shanghai. Photo: AFP / Hector Retamal

As for the bigger picture, foreign “hyper-markets” have failed to take off in China, with some criticized for failing to cater to the country’s consumer habits.

In June, French chain Carrefour agreed to sell 80% of its China business to domestic retailer Suning after suffering recurring losses.

German wholesaler Metro is in the process of selling its operations to a local bidder and the UK’s Tesco pulled out of the Chinese market in 2014.

Still, Costco has had an online presence in China for five years.

“That data from online sales convinced [the chain] that Chinese consumers were ready for a bricks-and-mortar version,” Richard Zhang, the senior vice-president for Asia at Costco, said.

– reporting AFP

Leave a comment