Business

Barbie learns China isn't the easy mark it's thought to be

Just two years after inaugurating a superstore in Shanghai, Barbie is packing up

Just two years after inaugurating her six-storey superstore in Shanghai, Barbie, Mattel’s iconic doll, is packing up. Her bright-pink mansion, which included a spa, a cosmetics counter, and a cocktail bar, served its purpose of establishing the brand in the new market, the toy maker said, but analysts insist the closure proves that Barbie failed to charm Chinese consumers.

Some experts say the doll’s exquisitely Western glamour—she was last seen wearing sexy clothes designed by Patricia Field of Sex and the City—didn’t quite cut it with a female public that adores the more girly gadgets of Hello Kitty. Others cited Chinese parents’s legendary rigor to explain why local children have displayed an unusually muted enthusiasm towards the toy industry.

Admittedly, Barbie’s sales have been stagnating across the world for years. But other thriving U.S. retailers have seen similarly awkward debuts in China. Both Best Buy and Home Depot recently announced store closures there. Like Mattel, the two retail giants offered expensive products that Chinese consumers could easily get from cheaper local competitors. Even as retail sales grew more than 18 per cent in 2010 from year-ago levels, China, it turns out, isn’t a sure money-maker.