Shanghai Food Shopping: Carrefour vs Wal-Mart

Carrefour and Wal-Mart are two mega-stores with plenty of options for the average student. Sabina Olsson reviews their presence in Shanghai.

After spending more than a few weeks in Shanghai, you soon realize that you cannot survive simply on only Family Mart dumplings and bubble tea. You eventually have to take responsibility and do what needs to be done: go grocery shopping. However, being new in town (and new in the country) it becomes a question of which store to choose. Many foreigners are drawn to the huge international retailers, either due to familiarity or perhaps the comfort. But how do the hypermarkets measure up to each other, and what could be the best choice for a poor, but hungry, NYU Shanghai student?

Carrefour is a European retail brand originally started in France, with stores across the world today in Europe, Latin America, South America, Asia, and Africa. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is one of the biggest American store brands, with thousands of outlets across the United States, and stores in over twenty-five other countries as well. Both retail chains are known for providing both local specialties as well as international ones, thus having a wide selection of food available.

Carrefour has twenty-three stores in Shanghai, with two stores close to the Jinqiao dorms. The Jinqiao market is reachable through thirty minutes of walking, or five minutes by taxi from the dorms. The other is located in the opposite direction: three metro stops away at Jufeng Road. This is convenient for stocking up food close to the dorms, and makes it possible to bringing frozen items home quickly, without it being ruined in the heat. Wal-Mart however, has ten stores in Shanghai, with one easy accessible from the Academic Building, located at North Linyi Road, three metro stops away from Century Avenue. Yet, to Wal-Mart’s disadvantage, they seem to not have a store within the area of Jinqiao, where many NYU Shanghai students live. In this sense, Carrefour might be the better option for students living on campus, both in proximity to the dorms and in easy accessibility via both metro and taxi.

Looking at the selection of stocks, arguably one of the most important factors, the retailers seem to be fairly similar. Both stores have a large amount of both local specialties as well as imported goods and a large fresh food deli offering fish, meat, fruit, and pre-cooked meals. However, looking at the imported selection, it becomes evident that these stores have very different selections of imported goods. Carrefour seems to have a larger selection with more diversity of foods, with many European and American items as Australian and Asian food. It becomes possible to find both American hot chocolate and Swedish saltines. This large mix of food from countries all over Europe and the Americas might be appreciated among the non-U.S. international students, who can find snacks and delicacies from home. However, from my impression, the stock of South- and Southeast Asian food seem a bit lacking compared to the other sections.    

In Wal-Mart there is also a large selection of imported food but, not surprisingly, with a larger amount of American brands and selections to choose between. Also, the stores seem to have a larger selection of Southeast Asian foods that were nowhere to be found in Carrefour. That also goes for a large selection of British goods and brands that were not available in Carrefour. Overall, it seems as if many of the foreign goods that were popular in Carrefour were not stocked at all in Wal-Mart, and vice versa. On the other hand, for local flavors, Carrefour might have a larger selection of international foods, but Wal-Mart has a better assortment of local food.

In home selection, both chains offer home decorations, and appliances but Carrefour could be argued to carry a cheaper and more basic assortment, such as plastic cups and plain sheets. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart offers a better quality, or at least a more elegant selection. With bed sets and silverware designed for aesthetic reasons rather than basic needs, it might be more appropriate for a family but perhaps not for the cheap college student.

In terms of pricing, the levels are mostly the same between the two stores, with minor differences in certain deals and offers. Both stores accept cash and cards, and now also Ali Pay.

Both brands have active websites for their China branches, but only Carrefour seems to have an active customer website, with products, prices, and offers. The site is constantly updated with new offers and deals, while having a full list of most of their product range. There is also the ability to shop and order online, and have the purchase delivered home to you. This option offers the possibility to pay directly online (requiring Ali Pay or local Chinese debit cards), or to pay later at delivery by cash or debit card. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart only has a corporate website for China, with tabs to describe the brand, customer service, and social responsibility among others but lacks descriptions of actual products and current offers.

Both Carrefour’s and Wal-Mart’s websites are in English and Mandarin.
It often seems like Carrefour is the most popular option among NYU Shanghai students, and based on location and accessibility, this is not very strange. However, this does not mean that Wal-Mart is an unacceptable option. It is certainly on the same level as Carrefour, with minor differences in selection. If you have the time and want to try something besides your routine grocery shopping trip or miss home, check out Wal-mart.

This article was written by Sabina Olsson. Please send an email to to get in touch.
Illustration Credit: Maya Wang

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