Japanese Dollar Store Triggers New Round of Competition in Flushing

Inside Daiso on opening day, March 8. (Photo by Lan Mu via World Journal)

Daiso, a well-known Japanese dollar store chain, opened its first location in Flushing on March 8 and welcomed close to a thousand customers in one day. But unlike the excited shoppers, the owners of other 99-cent shops peppering the neighborhood are under great pressure. They say they are ready to improve the quality of their goods in order to compete with the Japanese retail conglomerate.

The store in Flushing, the first Daiso in New York, became an instant hot topic on social media platforms such as Facebook and WeChat. Shuhei Geshi, deputy manager of the store, said that it didn’t invest much in advertising before the grand opening because it would rather use the money on improving the quality of the products. “We announced our opening via social media only,” Geshi said.

Daiso already has 3,000 stores in Japan, and in the U.S. it first opened in Los Angeles and Houston [as well as in Seattle and elsewhere] before landing in New York. Geshi said the broad presentation has helped increase the brand’s popularity. The Flushing store will focus on cosmetics, ornaments, pillows and other home goods. The prices of the items range from $1.99 to $7.99. “We also designed shopping bags with local landmarks for New York customers,” Geshi said. The hottest item on opening day was a $6.99 pet pillow.

The low prices and Japanese-style refined setting of Daiso make the store a strong competitor to the Chinese-owned low-end stores in the neighborhood. Linda Huang, who has run a 99-cent store for many years, said she had patronized Daiso in California and found the prices very appealing. “Although many of their products are also made in China, the quality is obviously better than similar items you can find in China,” Huang said.

But she said the 99-cent stores in the U.S. have already been in tough competition in recent years, and the Chinese-owned shops have already been trying to find supplies of better quality. “Now we make quality our priority when we purchase from wholesalers. And the quality of products from China is getting better,” Huang said. She said that in the future, quality will be even more important.

But Huang also said the customers in ordinary 99-cent stores are somewhat different from those of Daiso’s. “Our customers are more like working-class people who visit us on the way to work or on the way home after work. They don’t tend to spend much time in the shop,” while the customers of Daiso are more likely to shop there for fun, Huang said. She emphasized that Chinese-owned 99-cent stores need to strengthen their original customer base amid the competition.

Christina Yuan, manager of a cosmetics chain store selling Japanese and Korean beauty products, said the items in Daiso overlap with hers. With its reputation for low prices and high quality, Daiso is a strong competitor to her store.

Many Chinese customers met Daiso’s opening with great interest. A queue had been formed by 7 a.m. on the grand opening day in front of the Skyview mall where the store is located. Suqin Lin, who has been living in the U.S. for 10 years, said she saw the news of Daiso’s opening on WeChat and decided to bring her husband and two children to shop together. “I won’t be surprised if we have to wait for an hour in the line before we are able to get into the store.”

Another customer, Qiufang Chen, also came to wait in the morning. “But there were too many people. I stood in the line twice. But each time I gave up after more than half an hour,” said Chen who stood with her friends at 2 p.m., her third try that day. “I’ve never shopped at Daiso before. But I heard it’s very famous in Japan. I am curious,” she said.

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