Chinese girls just not into Barbie

A woman checks out dolls at Barbie's flagship store in Shanghai

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: Over the years, Santa's had quite a few Barbie dolls on his list.
But the brand's been struggling for market share with rival dolls such as Bratz. Now it seems parent company Mattel is facing another problem -- on the other side of the planet. Here's Marketplace Shanghai correspondent, Scott Tong.


Scott Tong: The Barbie flagship store sits on Shanghai's main shopping street, the equivalent of Fifth Avenue. But this holiday season, the sales staff outnumber the customers, and there's a lot on sale.

This saleslady hawks Barbie-brand eye shadow. Was $17, now $12. T-shirts are half off.

It's a big comedown from the store's ambitious opening in March. Back then, brand designer Richard Dickson promoted the Barbie-brand wedding dress for real-life brides: $10,000.

Richard Dickson: So you getting married. And oh my God, a Vera wedding dress, how fantastic. If you buy the Barbie Vera Wang wedding dress, you get a collector doll that wears the exact same dress, and we will sculpt that doll in your likeness.

Now, Chinese shoppers seem to have left Barbie at the altar. Parent company Mattel has replaced the store's general manager and revised its sales targets.

Shanghai consultant and seasoned shopper Michelle Wei provides a clue to what went wrong:

Michelle Wei (voice of interpreter): We never played with Barbie dolls growing up. I don't have this sense of, "Wow, Barbie is so beautiful." If I shop for a friend's daughter or my niece, I may buy a doll for them. But me, I'm not so interested.

Plus, hot pink isn't too popular here. Nor is the midriff-revealing Barbie brand clothing.

Shaun Rein at China Market Research thinks Mattel just doesn't "get" young Chinese women.

Shaun Rein: They're a lot more immature. They like cute, not pure sexy, halter top, see-through. That's not really popular in this market. The young, girlish-type of models do a lot better.

Point is, just because something sells in Malibu doesn't mean it'll work in China. Youth market researcher Mary Bergstrom:

Mary Bergstrom: For brands to be successful in China, you need to do a little bit of ego checking at the door. So whatever your brand has accomplished outside of China isn't necessarily what you bring into China.

Bergstrom thinks this struggling store is fixable -- so long as long as Barbie the brand puts on her glasses, does her China homework and updates her look once more.

In Shanghai, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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