2018-01-05 13:25:35

International brands are often put on a pedestal in China, but a state media commentator has accused them of having “princess syndrome” — a barb often directed at narcissistic, materialistic women.

In a vitriolic commentary in Party newspaper People’s Daily, staff writer Zhou Shanshan said global brands neglect the needs of the Chinese market and fall short on customer service. “The blind pursuit of foreign brands is a thing of the past,” she wrote on Friday. “Some popular foreign brands should cure their princess syndrome, or the divas are bound to lose the market.”

Zhou specifically took aim at Apple, alleging that the U.S. tech behemoth provided poor after-sales service and had not been responsive enough to the iPhone’s battery-related problems. In November 2016, Chinese customers complained that their phones — mainly the iPhone 6 and 6s models — were shutting down abruptly despite showing sufficient battery levels. It wasn’t until last month that the company announced it would replace the batteries at a lower cost.

Apple’s revenue in China has seen a sharp decline in recent years. Though figures from the third quarter of 2017 suggested that the brand could be bouncing back, according to technology market analyst firm Canalys, the growth is only temporary. Domestic brands like Huawei and Xiaomi are presenting stiff competition, and the iPhone series has been toppled from its throne as the country’s most popular cellular device.

According to a new study from global market research firm Nielsen, Chinese consumers no longer associate a hefty price tag with premium products, and the availability of new and innovative brands is attracting this savvier group of clientele. Many foreign brands, especially in the fast-moving consumer goods sector, are losing out to domestic brands, as they expand and cater to the local market quicker and more effectively. A report from consulting firm McKinsey & Company also points to the changing trend in Chinese consumer habits. “Discrepancies over quality and after-sales service impacted their view of foreign brands in China,” read the October report.

Chinese state media have time and again pushed nationalist rhetoric that has taken its toll on foreign businesses. Last year, amid escalating political tensions with South Korea, state-run newspaper Global Times targeted the Korean-Japanese conglomerate Lotte Group and encouraged people to boycott its goods. State media commentators have also taken a proactive approach to promoting “Made in China” in order to showcase the positive side of the country’s brand, after Chinese products were once widely denigrated for poor quality.

“Seven domestic brands are now on the list of the top 10 brands in terms of growth rate,” wrote Zhou, the commentator, referring to a 2017 industry report. “As Chinese manufacturers upgrade their brands, goods, and services, more and more foreign names will become replaceable.”

Contributions: Fan Liya; editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: Shoppers walk in front of an Apple logo at an Apple Store in Hong Kong, May 22, 2016. Liu Xingzhe for Sixth Tone)