Retail Exhibition from Design for Ageing Project

shopping-cart-2523838_640 copy

From June 2014 to November 2015 I was a Research Fellow on the ESRC-funded ‘Silver Shoppers’ project based at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. The project explored the grocery shopping practices of older consumers (65+) in the UK and China (you can read about my trip to China here). Next week, some of the key findings and design ideas are to be displayed in an exhibition as part of London Design Festival. The event runs from 22nd to 24th September at 22 Calvert Avenue London, and is free to enter.

As part of the project I conducted ethnographic research in three regions of the UK with 30 participants. Participants were asked to keep a diary for 6-weeks and complete weekly shopping inspection cards. In addition, myself and the team visited each participant 2-3 times for filmed observation (mobile ethnography) and interviews. Findings were presented to Sainsbury’s and are currently being written up for journal publications. The designs on display include innovative trolley concepts, smart shelves and interactive shopping assistants.

The project and exhibition is lead by Dr Yuanyuan Yin, Lecturer in Design Management. Check the webpage for more info.

Post to Twitter

Tips for a Westerner traveling to Beijing

Firstly, don’t be afraid!

This summer I went to China for the first time, spending a few days in Qingdao and Nanjing and three weeks in Beijing. I was there for work (see this post) so I hadn’t chosen to go there for a holiday (mainly because I couldn’t afford it), but I still had plenty of time to be a tourist. More and more people will be travelling there for work of course; I have friends who’ve been flown over for less than 72 hours to ‘do business’, so whether you’re visiting for sightseeing or networking, I hope these tips will help a first-timer in China.

Getting around

I flew into Beijing and got trains between Beijing, Qingdao and Nanjing. Their city train stations are bigger than our local airports. You need your passport to buy a train ticket. In fact, you need your passport for a lot of things. Check your train time online before you head to the station to make it easier to spot on the board and arrive at least 45 minutes before it leaves. You will queue to buy a ticket and queue to get through security – yes there is security.

The Beijing Subway is incredibly easy to use and works much like the UK tube. You can buy a top-up ‘smart’ card for CYN20 deposit from one of the ticket desks and top it up at a machine at any station (although the machines don’t always work). You have to go through security at every subway station but this never held me up, rush hour might be different. Journeys usually cost CYN4-7 depending on how far you’re travelling, so measured in pence rather than pounds. There are Subway maps at the stations and all announcements on the train are in English as well as Mandarin. You’ll find toilets at the end of every platform. Don’t expect people to wait for you to get off the train before they barge on.

Finding your way around when you get off the subway is a different matter. There are basic ‘you are here’ maps at the exit of every subway station but sometimes I found these entirely wrong! There are few signs to help you around the city, even for the main tourist attractions, so do take your own map. It can be difficult to find a taxi when you need one, but they’ll always be rickshaws outside the tourist spots.

Expect some attention

My little sister went to China years ago with school and describes how she was bombarded with folk wanting to take her picture. She was blonde (her hair now changes from pink to blue to purple, they’d probably think she’s from a different planet). I didn’t get this at all when I was with Chinese people, but it was a different story when I was on my own or with other Westerners. Generally I got teenage boys telling me I was beautiful and wanting to pose for a photo alongside me. It probably happened once at every main sight I visited and usually I didn’t mind apart from the day I had an awful cold and felt very unbeautiful. I had a cold because I got run down by not sleeping, which brings me to a brief point that I can’t help with because I failed to manage it – Don’t underestimate jet-lag.

Eating

Eating out is cheap and you will find something for all tastes but there isn’t quite as much diversity as other big cities. If you go to a local Chinese restaurant you can eat for £1 but you shouldn’t expect an English menu. I’m veggie and although it made it more difficult it wasn’t impossible. It helped that I’m not too fussy in that I was happy to pick meat out of noodle dishes. They have Starbucks, KFC etc, and they do have some good vegetarian restaurants if you search for them, many are in the University enclave of Haidian.

Using the facilities

On the plus side, you’ll find public toilets everywhere in Beijing. Unfortunately they vary greatly in what you get. More often than not they are squat toilets. You do get used to them, but you can also look out for disabled toilets if you want a seat. The public toilets in the Hutong are very basic – no cubicle doors, nowhere to wash your hands. Always carry tissue in with you because they rarely have any, and take hand sanitizer.

Finally, do take a good travel guide. I used Lonely Planet Beijing (there is a smaller pocket version too), and . . .

if you visit one major sight . . . it has to be the Forbidden City. There is so much to see and it is beautiful.

It was raining as we entered the Forbidden City

It was raining as we entered the Forbidden City

if you visit one park . . . go to Beihai Park and hire a boat to take to the lake circling Jade Islet. With 1000 years of history there are temples dotted around and places to grab a drink. You will pay a small amount to get in, as with most of the parks.

Jade Islet from our boat on Beihai Lake

Jade Islet from our boat on Beihai Lake

If you visit one museum . . . go to the Capital Museum. I didn’t visit many museums but the Capital and the National Museum of China are the big ones. They have very similar artefacts but the Capital is more modern and includes interesting installations such as a floor depicting Chinese festivals and folk traditions. The National is centrally situated, right near Tiananmen Square, so I’m sure that’s why I queued for half an hour to get it. There was no queue for the Capital at all.

Celebrating festivals at the Capital Museum

Celebrating festivals at the Capital Museum

If you visit one temple . . . you could visit the Lama Temple as all the guidebooks tell you to, it is the administrative centre of Buddhism. I really enjoyed visiting the White Cloud Temple though, once the Taoist centre of Northern China. The architecture is much the same, but the White Cloud temple was quieter, less shiny and more peaceful.

Incense ceremony at the White Cloud Temple

Incense ceremony at the White Cloud Temple

I’m lucky that I was able to spread out my time in the city because the summer heat was tiring. Some days I walked 12 miles. I’d definitely go back to China – Shanghai, some of the national parks, and Hong Kong are on my list.

If you’re traveling to Asia or beyond, Lonely Planet are offering 3 for 2 on all their guides.

Post to Twitter

Fieldwork in China on Grocery Shopping for Over 65s

Arriving at Tsinghua University campus, Beijing

Arriving at Tsinghua University campus, Beijing

I am currently in China! Beijing specifically, but before that I spent a week doing fieldwork in Qingdao and Nanjing (in the Mid/South East). It was always part of the plan that I would come to China during my 18-month research contract at Winchester School of Art. The project I joined, ‘Silver Shoppers’, looks at the grocery shopping experiences of consumers over the age of 65 in both the UK and China.

Findings aim to improve our understanding of the consumer behaviour, values and capabilities of this increasingly heterogeneous population with implications for future research, retail business strategy and social policy on ageing and wellbeing. Having completed the UK fieldwork (which you can read about here), I set off for China at the beginning of July.

Why the UK and China?

The retail markets in the UK and China are very different but are united in the need to develop solutions to service the ageing population. Equally, within the globalized retail industry, China is regarded as the biggest and most profitable overseas market by major international firms such as Tesco (UK), Wal-Mart (US), Carrefour (France) and Metor AG (Germany). Chinese consumer needs are different however to the needs of consumers in Europe and the US, particularly amongst the older generation who have to adapt to broader societal changes and the impact of new globalised technologies. This research seeks to understand older consumer behaviour both within the context of the newer supermarket environments and more traditional grocery stores and markets. There is also a gap in the literature looking at older shoppers experiences at open markets in China.

What we did

Data collection in China follows much the same methods as the UK. With three regions selected across the country, we aim to follow the everyday routines and shopping habits of 30 participants using a diary and inspection card pack for six weeks. We also conduct filmed observation of their normal grocery shopping routine and a post-shop interview. In the UK this focused solely on supermarkets but here in China, half have been to supermarkets and half to open markets.

How I got on

I’m sure it’s little surprise to know I don’t speak Chinese so we have a Chinese team based at Tsinghua University partnered on the project. A group of Masters students are managing the fieldwork, using the materials we developed in the UK which were then translated into Mandarin. By the time I came over the participants had been recruited, a plan was made and I joined the group as they started data collection in the first two cities. All of the interviews were conducted in Chinese but I was at least able to observe the shopping process. The students themselves were able to communicate with me in English (to a mixed degree) and looked after me very well! It was a great introduction to China and although it was an intense week of travel and long days, I really enjoyed it.

At the end of the week I ran a training session on data analysis so they will manage the rest of the process. My manager (the project lead) is Chinese so there’s no problem there when it comes to going through the findings. I’m now back at Tsinghua University in Beijing where I will stay for 3 weeks in total. This gives me a chance to explore the culture some more and do some informal observations, visiting the main supermarkets and watching people on the street.

Vegetable market in Qingdao, China

Vegetable market in Qingdao, China


Shellfish and seafood at the market in Qingdao

Shellfish and seafood at the market in Qingdao


More from the open market, Qingdao. What are they??

More from the open market, Qingdao. What are they??

What I’ve found

The thing that strikes me most about China, in general, is the contrast between rich and poor, new and old, shiny and dirty etc. In Nanjing we stayed next to a huge, shiny shopping mall with Starbucks and a cinema and Western clothes shops. But outside, people were selling fruit on the streets just placed on the pavement and a worker from a small restaurant was peeling his veg outside on the street. The train from Nanjing to Beijing went nearly 300km per hour but still had a dirty, squat toilet. Queuing to enter the National Museum of China a security guard grabbed my arm and moved me an inch sideways to get us exactly in line, but everyone pushes onto the subway train before you have a chance to get off. Everything is a contradiction. But maybe that’s good. They have the technology to make life easier, but can still ‘rough it’ better than us in the UK. We’re probably too precious. Too preoccupied with health and safety.

The same could be said for the supermarkets vs open markets. To me, the open markets were not hygienic at all. But as all proper food comes from the ground or sea to start with, it’s probably right that we should have to prepare things to eat ourselves. Qingdao is on the coast, so the market there was packed full of fish and seafood, a lot of it alive. The vegetables at the market too just seemed huge! A lot of people travel by bike, and watching them strap their shopping to the back is quite interesting.

Supermarkets have a lot more staff than in the UK, with assistants hovering around each main section. Fruit and veg is weighed before going to the till, sometimes you pay there and then separately. They have lots of pick and mix sweets and brightly coloured packets creating a rainbow effect. In Beijing so far I’ve visited Carrefour, but got distracted by the ‘imported foods’ section. I bought Babybel! They had a map to show the store layout at the entrance, something suggested by a number of our UK participants. Obviously Carrefour is French rather than Chinese, but I hadn’t seen this in the UK.

In terms of shopping with the older people, there are far fewer mobility scooters and wheelchairs here. They just don’t have the space to get around in them. I spotted this in the Hutong in Beijing though. Similarly, I’m sure a lot of people don’t bother with pushchairs. I haven’t seen many. Some of our Chinese participants can’t read and write either so they have family members helping with the diary tasks, but clearly, this has to affect their shopping, especially in a supermarket as opposed to the open market.

Motorised bike/wheelchair with parasol

Motorised bike/wheelchair with parasol


Useful map in Carrefour, Beijing

Useful map in Carrefour, Beijing

There’s not a huge amount more I can say until I see the results (translated back into English for me!). We will be publishing a comparison study of the UK and China, as well as on the two contexts individually. I’ve had some time to be a tourist too, so I’ll post another blog about that later!

Post to Twitter

Greenpeace and Textile Industry Pollution: The Dirty Laundry Case


Last week I ventured from the cosy walls of Geography and Environment over to the Management School at the University of Southampton. There, Dr Doris Merkl-Davis from Bangor University, presented a seminar on ‘Rhetoric and Argument in Corporate Social Responsibility Communications: The Dirty Laundry Case’. Merkl-Davis’ paper explored the use of rhetoric and argument between CSR communications using, as a case study, an existing conflict between Greenpeace and six textile organizations in the sportswear/fashion industry over wastewater discharge of hazardous chemicals.

The research is based on the ‘Dirty Laundry’ report published by Greenpeace in 2011. The report profiles the problem of toxic water pollution that results from the release of hazardous chemicals by the textile industry in China. This water pollution poses serious and immediate threats to both our ecosystems and to human health. Honing in on two manufacturing facilities in China, the scientific analysis of the samples found that both facilities were discharging a range of hazardous chemicals into the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas. These facilities, Greenpeace found, supplied a range of major brands, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Bauer Hockey, Calvin Klein, Converse, Cortefiel, H&M, Lacoste, Li Ning, Meters/bonwe, Nike, Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation (PVH Corp), Puma and Youngor.

Armed with their evidence, Greenpeace called on these brands to ensure that they do not continue to have commercial relationships with these suppliers. They said, “Brand owners are therefore the best placed to bring about change in the production of textiles and clothing – through their choices of suppliers, the design of their products and the control they can exert over the use of chemicals in the production process and the final product”. Six brands responded publically and all 14 eventually agreed to commit to the cause; Puma were the first to commit to eliminating hazardous chemicals by 2020, followed by Nike, G-Star Raw, Adidas, whilst H&M were last.

What interested me initially to the seminar was the Greenpeace/CSR/fashion story, but Merkl-Davis’ account of communications between the corporations and Greenpeace were equally fascinating. The speaker defined CSR not as ethical trade awareness or ethical engagement but simply as a form of persuasive communication. Using press releases from Greenpeace and six fashion/sportswear brands, Merkl-Davis’ concluded that Greenpeace were the winners, at least for now because they had succeeded in singing up all 14 brands to the cause. Is 2020 a target to be proud of however? And will the brands actually do what they say they will, after all signing up doesn’t necessarily lead to continued participation.

Greenpeace won, according to Merkl-Davis’, because they effectively mobilised their capital, adopted a clever use of language and knew how to mobilise their supporters and the media to the cause. The brands could do nothing less than sign the commitment, or they would look like the ‘bad guys’. Had then, Greenpeace won from the start? And did they only pick a battle they knew they could win? These were the questions we were left to ponder.

What can you do to help?

Legitimacy and accountability became a key topic of discussion in the seminar. The corporate brands, Merkl-Davis believes, are responsible for ethical sourcing. But what about the suppliers? And the Consumers? Even the Government?

Whatever demons you struggle with (or don’t) as a consumer, one simple thing you can do is to sign the Greenpeace Detox Fashion Manifesto
http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Detox-Fashion-Manifesto/?ref=thingstodo
Click here to read the Dirty Laundry Report yourself.

Post to Twitter