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Santa's workshop in Yiwu goes electric

China Daily Updated: 2015-12-14


[Cai Meng / China Daily]

Elves disguised as middlemen snap up electronic toys, giving a boost to exports in 2015

Floating above one of many lanes in the crowded Yiwu Small Commodities Market in Zhejiang province, a balloon shark is "swimming" in the air, waving its tail. Unlike traditional balloons that float whichever way the wind blows, the shark responds to a remote controller.

The toy was a hit with middlemen who did their pre-Christmas shopping months ago in the market that boasts to be the world's largest seller of mass-manufactured retail shop goods. Electronic toys like the shark, or cars that transform into robots as they scoot around, are the big items this year.

Fan Yueqiang, owner of the store that sells the shark, hailed it as a best-seller that he picked up from the Yiwu Baibian Electronic Technological Co.

"Clients from the Middle East and India liked the shark very much," he said. "I sold almost 20,000 such sharks during peak season in June and July," he said, adding foreign wholesale buyers bet the sharks would appeal as Christmas presents for children.

"I heard some people say Christmas sales was not good this year in Yiwu. This is not the case for me. The sharks alone brought me 15 percent more profits than last year."

A frequent buyer of Yiwu products is Indian merchant Pradeep Mannu Dadlani. He was on the hunt for toys to kitchenware he looks to re-sell globally. He also noted that low-cost electronic toys dominate demand.

"Electronic toys might be the new darling for Christmas purchases because most of my clients, be they in South America or the Middle East, love these things," he said, saying prices run around 100 yuan ($16) once they reach the retail shop.

"People are looking for holiday presents that are more cost-efficient," he said. "Some might cut or simplify holiday decorations, but most people will not skip giving children presents."


Electronic Santa Claus mascots are popular at the Yiwu Small Commodities Market in Zhejiang province, especially those that can play saxophone.[Provided to China Daily]

Still, other items are like the Paddington Bear, a bit forlorn and in need of attention.

Yang Sumei's shop mainly sells Christmas hats and Christmas-themed stuffed toys. She is having a relatively sluggish year and even turned down offers because price bids were too low.

"Sales declined by 10 percent this year although we have already lowered our prices," she said. "Maybe it is because economic environment is not so encouraging in other countries."

But next year, Yang plans to expand into gadgets.

"Next year, I might change some of my goods into things with technology in them. Some of them sold really well," she said.

That's also been the case for more traditional items.

Chen Jinlin, a consultant to the Yiwu Christmas Goods Industry Association, said sales of traditional Christmas products, including artificial Christmas trees, cushions and Santa-image stuffed toys, saw a decline in both price and quantity.

"However, sales of new and high-tech products like electronic toys are surging," he said.

Statistics from the Yiwu customs office showed that from January to July, the city exported Christmas goods worth 450 million yuan, rising by 25.5 percent year-on-year. July alone saw exports of 270 million yuan.

"In the industry, we have a saying that the sales of Christmas goods in July can reflect the city's foreign trade performance as a whole," said Chen. "It seems that we are going to have a positive ending this year."

Liu Guangjie, general manager of Guangdong Cheerson Hobby Technology Co, shares the same optimism.


Remote controlled aircraft, electric toy cars and robots are welcomed by buyers of overseas Christmas gifts at the Yiwu Small Commodities Market in Zhejiang this year.[YAN YIQI/CHINA DAILY]

The company mainly makes and sells flying remote control toys to clients in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Russia.

"These toys are loved by not only children but also adults. Some of my foreign clients cannot get their hands off the remote controller," he said.

"The technology is mature so that quality can be guaranteed. And compared with those manufactured by Western companies, we have advantage in prices."

On the online shopping website of Amazon, a flying shark sells at $30, after a $9 discount. In the Yiwu store, however, customers can get the same shark at 80 yuan ($12).

But Liu noted that since the Christmas purchase season for foreign clients has passed, the aim is to stoke demand in China.

"I think these toys will also be Chinese parents' favorite choice for the Chinese New Year," he said.

Zhao Wei, a professor of international economic studies at Zhejiang University, said that the market enthusiasm toward electronic toys might be a transforming opportunity for Chinese manufacturers and exporters.

"For a very long period of time, the notion 'made in China' represented cheap and low-value products," he said. "With technology improving electronic toys, the global market might have a new view on Chinese products."

Zhao said that companies can use the demand to focus on other high-tech, value-added products.

"The depreciation of currency cannot have long-term effects on export volume. Providing high value-added and quality products is the only way out," he said.

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