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Investigative report has customers’ needs in mind

Global Times (2013-10-25 P17)
By Shan Renping
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Recently a report by CCTV revealed contrasting Starbucks prices in four different places - Chicago, London, Mumbai and Beijing. A medium-size latte at the US coffee house in Mumbai costs 14 yuan ($2.30), the cheapest among the four cities, while one in Beijing costs 27 yuan, which is the most expensive.

CCTV also compared the profit margin between the Asia Pacific region and other regions, finding the profit margin ranks the highest here.

Surprisingly, after CCTV's reports were aired, the TV station met with a fierce popular backlash as it did when it accused Apple of discriminating Chinese consumers on this year's World Consumer Rights Day.

Some commented that CCTV's reports show its lack of financial knowledge. On the Internet, the tide of public opinion has been supporting Starbucks while satirizing CCTV.

Some netizens pointed out that Starbucks is not a monopoly, unlike SOEs, and it sets prices based on the market. Others questioned why CCTV did not expose the wrongdoings of State monopolies but poked its nose into foreign companies' business.

While the domestic media claims to be trying to protect consumers' rights, they have met with mockery from public opinion that sees them as having ulterior motives.

The Internet and some market-driven media outlets obviously generate negative sentiments toward State media such as CCTV.

Of course, we should not say all criticisms toward CCTV's "unprofessional" reports are unreasonable.

There is room for discussion as whether Starbucks has gained extravagant profits in China and whether these profits are sensible. It is also entirely normal that CCTV, as an opinion watchdog, should be closely watched itself.

However, all reports and comments should rest upon common sense, and should not turn a blind eye to the facts.

The fact is that Starbucks' coffee in Beijing really is sold at a higher price than in other national metropolises. CCTV raised this issue, and this reporting suits the Chinese public's interests.

Comparatively, foreign chains such as the McDonald's and KFC offer cheaper prices in China than in the US and Europe. Obviously Starbucks has room to lower its prices. Some argue that what Starbucks sells is not coffee but service. But don't McDonald's and KFC sell both services and products?

There must be a number of reasons that contribute to the pricey coffee of Starbucks, and those reasons may be more complicated than CCTV found. But at the least, CCTV's peers should lend a supportive hand, especially when this watchdog is urging a US coffee chain which has rapidly expanded its business in China to lower its prices if it can.

China's opinion sphere is now dominated by particular sentiments. Some also categorize different media outlets into different camps.

These sentiments and the categorization by ideology have disturbed public ability to judge, and have intensified value splits, all of which are at the cost of Chinese public interests.

Because of such disarray, it is likely that domestic media feels hesitant when supervising transnational companies, resulting in these companies loosening their self-discipline in the Chinese market.

For historical reasons, State media has greater reporting capabilities than some market-driven media. Therefore, CCTV has done the most investigative reports in order to protect Chinese consumers' rights, many of which have targeted domestic enterprises.

It's certainly unquestionable that the public should supervise the TV station and promote it to report more accurately. But they shouldn't strike a blow to its enthusiasm to protect consumers' rights.

Starbucks is a fairly good coffee chain. Its success in most parts of China stands on its own. Given the prices provided by CCTV, there is space for it to reduce its profits by charging consumers less. In China, the prices in other coffee chains are also relatively high. If Starbucks can take the initiative in bringing down prices, it will gain more respect.

The author is a commentator with the Chinese edition of the Global Times.

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