China’s state-run media isn’t shy about accusing foreign brands of bad service toward Chinese customers without much heed to whether the claims are legitimate or not. In line with this trend, a recent article on Xinhua conveniently rounds up a number of state media criticisms of foreign luxury brands which all have one thing in common: not much evidence.
In the article, Xinhua lists a collection of reports dating from 2008 to the present accusing Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Dior, Gucci, Armani, and Fendi of a wide range of infractions including selling fakes at their official boutiques worldwide, producing low-quality goods that fall apart soon after purchase, and behaving unfairly toward customers when they complained.
In one example of the sub-par research that went into many of these stories, the piece cites a 2012 article in which a “Mr. Wei” bought a pair of Louis Vuitton shoes in Tianjin that allegedly split open 10 days after he bought them. When he took them back to the store for return, the storekeepers allegedly only sent pictures of the shoes to company’s China headquarters, which reportedly told him that the frequency of use and his environment had caused the damage. Straying from typical journalism guidelines, the article doesn’t bother to say the name of the store, provide a photo of the shoes, or try to get a quote from LV on the issue. Showing a little more effort in the story of a “Ms. Wang” who experienced similar problems at the Tianjin Friendship Store, the article claims that LV’s Shanghai headquarters reportedly said it was still in talks with the store, and that the store was unauthorized to comment on behalf of LV. A year and a half later, the Xinhua article dutifully re-reports the story with equally few details and no follow-up with anyone involved.
Despite the minimal evidence, the articles make some pretty extreme claims. According to a Legal Evening News article, in 2012, someone named Ms. Sun (however, this is just an alias, it helpfully notes) bought Fendi sandals that fell apart soon after she wore them. According to her, the storekeeper allegedly told her that Fendi used “Italian glue” which naturally came undone, and she wasn’t allowed to return them.
The piece doesn’t just go after stores in China, but also criticizes international boutiques with equally little evidence. For example, it states that “a woman with the surname Guo” recently told Shanghai Securities News that that four out of six bags she allegedly bought at official Hermès boutiques in Europe turned out to be fake. Meanwhile, a “Beijing actress” with no name provided whatsoever also supposedly bought a Hermès handbag worth 700,000 RMB ”in the UK” that turned out to be fake as well. The author of the article apparently felt that basic facts, such as the store in which they were purchased or a quote from the brand, were unnecessary.
South Korea’s Shilla Duty-Free is to be avoided as well, implies the article, which cites several instances of Chinese purchases of items such as a Dior bag and Jaeger-LeCoultre watch that were allegedly defective, and when the buyers tried to return the items at the brand offices in China, they were supposedly told that it was Shilla’s responsibility and not the brands’. The article doesn’t say if there was any follow-up with Shilla.
Chinese state media critiques of foreign companies are not uncommon, and generally relate to complaints that Western companies are giving Chinese customers service which is inferior to that provided in other countries. The most widely publicized incidents this year have been CCTV’s botched critique of Apple and complaints that a Vera Wang boutique in Shanghai was charging a $500 “try-on fee”.
However, this report also manages to go after international boutiques, showing that it’s also trying to send the message that this “problem” can’t be resolved by simply purchasing luxury goods elsewhere, which Chinese buyers already do for 60 percent of the luxury goods they purchase.
CCTV’s anti-Apple campaign earlier this year was heavily derided by netizens when Taiwanese-American movie star Peter Ho posted a complaint about the company which accidentally included a directive of what time he should post it, causing users to call him out for being paid to do it. This Xinhua article on luxury goods does not have an equally extensive social media component. A search of Weibo does find a recent post by user @加利福尼亚黑加仑子 claiming that she had bought a fake bag at Louis Vuitton in Portland, OR. However, she only has about 1,000 followers, so it’s unlikely she was put up to it by Chinese state media. The post features several pictures of the bag such as the one to the right and claims:
Omnipotent North America! A shocking event happened today: at Portland’s Louis Vuitton I bought an Alma bag. After I returned to LA, I felt I didn’t need it and went to the store to return it, but the LA store told me that it was a fake. Attached are photos of the details; I want to make everyone aware. The places where it’s not the same [as the real]: the bag’s body is not stiff 2. the color is not right on the outside 3. the color is not right on the inside. Everyone look for yourself!
It’s impossible to tell from this Weibo post what the exact story is—there’s no way to prove that this bag was actually purchased at an official store—but it’s quite telling that the Xinhua article provides even less evidence than the aforementioned microblogger for its claims. The outlet’s reasoning for publishing the piece was likely an attempt to gain the same amount of attention that Chinese media outlets gained for the Vera Wang “try-on fee” story: stories of unfair treatment toward Chinese customers by Western brands are able to generate feelings of outrage that cause a story to go viral. The Vera Wang story managed to go viral because it was indeed true, but in this case, netizens have not felt equally compelled to comment on Xinhua’s less-than-extensive research.