地摊经济能否助力经济复苏?Exploring China’s ‘Stall Economy’

地摊是否真的能成为一个失业者的出路?它究竟对经济复苏能起到多大贡献? 疫情过后的中国,“稳就业、保民生”成为了接下来的经济政策重点,但具体该怎样实施?此前大火的“地摊经济”概念,是否可以成为一个带动消费和就业的解决方案呢? 官方数据显示,有城市的就业因发展地摊经济而得到了大幅改善。可网络上公开的数据信息有限,地摊经济究竟有多大力量,还需要我们亲自去看看。于是OCA发动上海、北京、四川等省市的同学,开展了一次不专业的田野调查。归来,我们将理论研究与田野调查相结合,得出了自己的结论。 For post-COVID China, “stabilizing employment and protecting the livelihood of people” has become the most important economic agenda for the foreseeable future, but how exactly can it be done? Can the “stall economy”, a concept that became popular previously, be a solution to China’s employment and consumption problems? According to official data, the employment situation in some cities has improved evidently. However, given the very limited information, we feel necessary to see for ourselves how significant the impact of the stall economy is. Therefore, OCA initiated a field research in various regions, including Shanghai, Beijing and the Sichuan Province. Upon returning, we put our field observations and theoretical research together and formed our own conclusions.

【“地摊经济”——概念缘何而起】

疫情带来的经济冲击即使不是人类前所未见,也是史上难遇的。

The economic impact of COVID-19 is fairly rare in history, if not unprecedented.

对于最先被影响的中国,新冠疫情带来的经济损失到底有多重?据官方统计,中国第一季度GDP同比下降6.8%,这是四十年来首次出现负增长;4月份,平均城镇调查失业率在6%上下波动、创有数据记录以来最高;新增就业人数同比减少超过两成。而据银河证券首席经济学家刘锋分析,疫情的经济影响在过去百年人类历史上是绝无仅有的,这主要是因为社交隔离措施造成消费端需求萎缩,而生产停顿造成供给停滞,双向的收缩使企业和居民的收入和支出现金流急剧萎缩,因此经济产出在短期内突然下降,产生了大面积突发危机。

How much loss has China, the first country to be hit by coronavirus, suffered? The official data shows that Chinese Q1 GDP has a year-on-year decrease of 6.8%, the first decrease in the last 40 years. In April, the urban unemployment rate was around 6%, the highest in recorded history. What’s more, the newly increased number of employment has an year-on-year decrease of 20%. According to Liu Feng, the chief economist of Galaxy Securities, there was nothing comparable with the economic impact of COVID-19 in the last hundred years of human history, which is mainly because of the plunge of both supply and demand. The demand side was weakened by the social distancing measures, while the supply side was affected by the stagnation of production. Thus, the cash flow of both firms and residents shrank.

毫无疑问,疫情之后的中国经济需要尽快复苏,“稳就业、保民生”成为了接下来经济发展的重点[1]。而突然成为话题热点的“地摊经济”,成为了一个看似可行的“抓手”。

Without a doubt, post-COVID China is urgently in need of economic recovery, with “stabilize employment and protect the livelihood of people” being the most important agenda at present. At the same time, “stall economy”, a concept that suddenly gained traction, seems to be a feasible solution.

公众对于“地摊经济”的关注,起源于李克强总理在5月28日记者会上透露的一系列惊人数据:中国人均年可支配收入是3万元人民币,但是有6亿中低收入及以下人群,他们平均每个月的收入也就1000元左右。1000元,在一个中等城市可能租房都困难,现在又碰到疫情。“疫情过后,民生为要”,总理说。[2]

Public attention to the “stall economy” originated from the May 28th press conference, where the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang released a series of alarming data: The average yearly disposable income of Chinese residents is 30,000 yuan, but for the 0.6 billion moderate and low-income citizens, the average monthly income is merely around 1,000 yuan. With this amount of money, one can hardly rent a house in a medium-sized city, let alone standing against the economic impact of COVID-19. “In the post-COVID era, livelihood is the most important thing”, said Premiere Li.

紧接着,6月1日,总理在走访了山东的街头小贩后,又发表了一个令人意外的评论:“地摊经济、小店经济是就业岗位的重要来源,是人间的烟火,和‘高大上’一样,是中国的生机。”[3] 之所以说令人意外,是因为地摊从来都是城市管理中重点打击的对象,城管和小贩之间的摩擦冲突,几乎都成为了具有中国特色的社会现象。

Shortly after that, on June 1, after Premier Li visited some street vendors in the Shandong Province, he commented, surprisingly, “Stall economy and street vendors are important sources of employment. They are lively, and are as vital as ‘high-end’ (economy) in terms of China’s development.” This is surprising because street vendors have always been the main target of city management, and their conflict with the municipal officers has become a social phenomenon with Chinese characteristics.

尽管地摊给人的印象常常是“脏乱差“,但就经济的恢复而言,灵活、低门槛的地摊经济与稳定民生之间似乎有着非常合理的联系。于是,许多人将总理的话当成了政策的风向标,尝试以摆摊改善生活,“地摊经济”一词也成为了网络热点。一时间,详细的摆摊进货攻略、相关咨询问题、视频播客甚至是调侃性的言论和表情包充斥了网络。

Although street stalls have always been considered “dirty and disorderly”, its flexible nature and easy entrance seems to have a reasonable correlation with the protection of people’s livelihood, in terms of economic recovery. Therefore, a lot of people took Li’s word as the new policy direction and tried to start their street stalls to get a better life. The word “stall economy” itself became a hot topic as well. Quickly, the internet was filled with detailed Q&As, vlogs and guidance on how to purchase and sell products on streets, and even sarcastic speeches and memes.

可是大众热切的关注并不代表地摊经济模式是一定可行的。政策方面,中央并没有释放支持地摊经济的完全积极的信号,甚至传出了一些反对的声音。6月7日,《北京日报》发表了评论《地摊经济不适合北京》,核心观点是“对地摊的宽容不利于城市精细化管理和形象建设”,这显然是站在了从前城管小贩势不两立的立场。几乎同一时间,《澎湃新闻》、《中国新闻周刊》等也纷纷发表了类似的声音。很多已经准备网购商品的人,停下了点击“购买”的手;而在北京,已经开始摆摊的,则受到了城管的驱赶。

Nevertheless, that the public is concerned does not mean that the stall economy can work. On the policy level, the central government did not immediately release positive signals that it supports the economic model. On the other side, there were also some opposite voices. On June 7th, Beijing Daily published a commentary named The Stall Economy is not for Beijing, its main idea being that tolerating street vendors is not good for the fine management and image building of a city. Almost at the same time, The Paper, News China, etc., voiced similar opinions. As a result, those who were ready to purchase new products stopped their moves, while those who had already started selling on the street in Beijing were driven away by municipal officers.

现阶段的城市管理与地摊难以相融,这其实可以理解。不过值得思考的是,既然疫情对于民生的冲击之大有目共睹,那么如果地摊经济能够带动一定的就业和消费,是否可以为了取得经济成果而暂且放松城市管制?这就需要回到地摊经济的本质:它对经济的推动力量究竟有多少?摆地摊,是否能养活一个失业的人?

It is understandable that city management and street vendors repel each other at the moment. However, it is worth pondering that given the damage to people’s livelihood by the pandemic, is it acceptable to loosen the city management a bit for the sake of economic development, if the stall economy does help boost employment and consumption? To what extent can it help economic recovery? Can one feed himself by becoming a street vendor?

为了回答这个问题,首先需要参考已有的案例。尽管包括上海、厦门、长春、成都在内的多个城市明确鼓励发展地摊经济,目前公开了数据的仅成都一例。作为新一线城市,成都率先为地摊经济“松绑”,收获了可观的成效。自3月出台政策允许商贩临时占道经营以来,截至5月21日,成都增加就业岗位多达10万个[4]。不过,这数据背后并没有更多有关统计方法的说明,而这样的积极影响能够维持多久也是个未知数。

To answer the question, we should look at previous cases. Although many cities, including Shanghai, Xiamen, Changchun and Chengdu, have explicitly encouraged the development of the stall economy, only Chengdu has released relevant data. As a new first-tier city, Chengdu took the lead of loosening management on street vendors, and the results are impressive. In March, policies that permitted street vendors to do business on the streets temporarily were released. Until May 21st, there were more than 0.1 million new jobs created. However, there was no further information regarding the statistical method, and how long the positive impact can sustain is also in question.

因此,为了更深入的了解地摊经济的作用,OCA发动上海、北京、四川等各省市的同学,开展了一次田野调查。我们走访了郊区的跳蚤市场,小区里的菜摊,地铁口的袜子摊,还逛了商场主办的市集,留下了不少笔记,也形成了自己的观察和思考。我们从中选取了比较有代表性的案例来呈现。

Therefore, OCA initiated a field research project in various cities and provinces, including Shanghai, Beijing and Sichuan. The places we visited include suburban flea markets, vegetable stalls in neighborhoods, socks stalls in front of subway entrances, fairs held by shopping malls, etc. Building on our research, we took down some notes and formed our own opinions. Presented below are some selected cases.

【地摊手记】

【套圈圈摊位的老板娘:“在家里也没事做”】

上海

在上海南汇郊区吃饭,偶然碰到一片地摊。业务种类多样,有的卖饰品、便宜衣服、香水小样,有的卖甜品饮品,还有的做游乐项目,套圈圈、捞金鱼之类。

一路走来,套圈圈这边最热闹,据了解已经摆了三周了。大人小孩都来玩,围观的也不少。宣传用的喇叭出了点问题,叫卖声从老板录进去的“套圈圈十元八个圈圈”变成了“套圈圈八圈圈”循环播放。和一般规则比较“坑人”的套圈圈摊位相比,这边比较特别——只要圈圈沾上了物件的一点边,摊主便赶忙把那个物件拿给套中的小朋友,并情绪高昂地喊着:“中了中了!厉害的!”

和老板娘的交谈中我也明白了为什么把规则制订得如此宽松,“我们主要也不是赚钱,就是两个人晚上在家里也没事做,无非看看电视剧。那到这边来摆摊的话一个是热闹,也是顺便处置一下自己家里闲置的东西。”

在所有类型的商品中,饰品是最常见的。一个和我年龄相近的女生认真的装扮了她的摊位,可看上去并不怎么在意她的潜在顾客。她告诉我,自己和男朋友经营这个摊位就是玩一玩,毕竟没有什么经验。等热情一过,她还是会回归原本的生活。

在此考察后,我感觉到在上海,哪怕是这种最接地气的地摊,也只是人们夜生活的消遣工具,无论是看上去年轻没有经验的年轻人,还是有了些岁月痕迹善于叫卖的中年摊贩,大多数人只是为了打发时间图个乐,顺便赚点小钱。人们的生活仿佛越来越好了。

【There’s nothing to do at home anyway】

I ran into the street stalls on my way to have a meal in Nanhui District, the suburb area in Shanghai. There are various kinds of businesses, including selling accessories, cheap clothes, perfume samples and homemade food, and also game booths.

I noticed a stall that gained popularity rapidly with its “ring game” (one can get that object if his ring covers the whole object). The loudspeaker kept broadcasting: “¥10 for 8 rings,” which attracted many passersby and their kids. What surprised me was how generous the vendor was. As long as the ring touched the edge of the object, he would take the object to the “little winner,” and it turned out that the vendor just wanted to dispose of his idle items instead of making money through the “ring game” stall. The vendor’s wife added that the stall helped them to kill the time after retirement.

Trinket stalls were the most common ones among any other kinds of stalls. A girl around my age seriously decorated her stall but seemingly didn’t care much about her potential customers. Accompanied by her boyfriend, she told me she just wanted to have fun with her stall since she never had such experience of being a vendor. Once her passion faded, she would go back to her original life.

Therefore, the main reason behind emerging stalls may not be “earning money to cover the loss under COVID-19”, but “to have fun.” Such a phenomenon may be common among those who live in first-tier cities, but for those who have to earn their livings, they seldom have the luxury to “try something they had never experienced.” Nevertheless, compared with vendors who used to keep alert all the time to avoid urban management officers (chengguan) several years ago, people’s lives seem to be better indeed.

【上海商业广场市集——宽松管理,自由“生长”】

截至调查时间,安亭财富广场的集市已开放了一个半月。集市规模中等,有11个临时摊位。简单搭建而成,风格清新,与周围的美食广场有些格格不入。

这里的业务也是多种多样,小饰品,宠物,二手玩具,零食宵夜,都有。至于价格,除了小饰品价位与景区商店相近,宠物、玩具、宵夜等等都大幅低于市价。不同的时间段,来游逛的顾客群体也不一样——中午多是周围办公楼午休的上班族,之后便以周围的居民、孩子老人为主。这里的监管并不严格。只有一名广场工作人员在场负责协调现场状况,但他不会对具体商品进行监管。

来这里做生意,成本不算高。美食广场提供地点和桌椅,商户无需缴纳固定租金,不过到场的话需缴纳每天200元左右的管理费,营业时间也不固定。宠物店通常7点结束,此时卖宵夜的满载烤盘货架的三轮车才刚刚到达,在接下来几个小时里为饥肠辘辘的顾客提供美食。

集市总体生意尚可。在所有摊位中,宠物摊是被光顾最多的,从头至尾客流不断。但了解下来才发现,其实驻足的人多,掏钱的人少。考察的那一周里,摊主只卖出去两只兔子,都是老人中午看到后,领着放了学的孩子来买回家的。其他摊主里,有些将这里作为主要工作,有些是做副业,或者是假期让孩子体验生活。他们的生意都不稳定,好处就是工作时间比较灵活。生意好而稳定的,其实是卖宵夜的三轮车摊。

在宽松的监管环境下,这里的商品质量值得一提。除了一家饰品店在广场内有自己的店面,其他经营者均无个体工商户营业执照。虽然摊位环境整洁有序,但是实际售卖商品可能存在质量隐患。比如晚上宵夜的电动三轮车,食物的卫生情况不是很好,而且在靠近马路的露天场所,可能会有污染。

[Free growth under slack management]

Anting Fortune Plaza, Shanghai

By the time of my research,  the market on Anting Fortune Plaza had been open for one and a half months. It is a medium-sized market with 11 temporary stalls, whose plain style does not quite fit with the plaza around.

There are various business types here as well, including trinkets, pets, second-hand toys, midnight snacks and so on. Regarding the price, almost all the goods are well below market price, except the accessories which are almost as expensive as those sold at the scenic spots. The kinds of visitors are distinct at different times. At noon, its consumers are mostly white-collar workers from the office buildings around, who would walk around during noon break. Past noon, the customers are mainly local residents, children and the elderly. The regulation here is not strict, as there is only one supervisor representing the plaza, who coordinates the site but does not micromanage the stalls. It wouldn’t cost much to do business here, since the fortune plaza would provide vendors with spaces, tables, and chairs. Also, the vendors don’t have to pay a fixed rent, but they do need to pay about 200 yuan for management every day when they show up.

There are no fixed business hours. Pet shops usually close at 7pm, just in time for the tricycles full of grilled dishes that sell late-night snacks to arrive, who would provide tasty food for hungry customers in the next few hours.

The popularity of the market is moderate overall. Among all the stalls, the pet stall is the most dwelled. However, not until I investigated did I find out that despite the high volume of traffic, few people actually made purchases. During the week of my research, the stall owner only sold two rabbits, whose buyers were old people who visited the stall at noon and came to buy with their grandchildren after school. As for other vendors, some set up stalls as a main occupation, while others only do this part-time or even just see this as a social practice opportunity for their children. They typically don’t have a stable business, and their schedule can be flexible. Only the tricycles selling late-night snacks enjoy stable and high popularity.

Given the slack management, the product quality in the market is worth questioning. Except an accessory store that has its shop in the plaza, no other stall has a business license. Despite the clean and orderly environment, the products may have potential quality problems. For example, the tricycles selling late-night snacks can be easily contaminated, considering that they sell in an open area close to the road.

【大学生的摆摊初体验:赚的不少,但太耗精力】

四川绵竹

这位摊主在决定卖小饰品时正值暑假,在家没有什么事情干。恰逢“地摊经济”的提出,这正是一个体验生活的好机会。于是她抱着一颗梦想成为富婆的心,开始了摆摊生活。

在淘宝上进了货后,她开始了自己的小生意。据摊主说,她做生意的诀窍就是看到有人浏览她的摊位时热情地招待每一个顾客,微笑要够甜,说话要好听,这样可以吸引更多的顾客,也可以更快地把东西卖出去。不负她的努力,她的摊位生意很好,两三天就回本了。

在干了三个星期后,摊主决定结束她的摆摊生涯。虽然每天的利润还算可观,但她也发现,每天摆摊其实是很累的。不光是每天搬运、摆放商品耗费体力,为了招揽到更多的顾客,不停地微笑、随时保持热情也是一件很耗费精力的事情。在摆摊的新鲜劲过去之后,会更加考验摊主的耐性。

[“I can earn much, but it’s just energy-consuming”]

Mianzhu, Sichuan

The stall owner decided to sell accessories during summer vacation when she had nothing to do at home. This coincides with the proposal of the “street stall economy,” making it a good opportunity to have a different life experience. As a result, with a dream of becoming a rich woman, she started her life as a stall owner.

After purchasing goods on Taobao, she started her own small business. According to the stall owner, her key to doing business is to warmly welcome every customer the minute he lays eyes on her stall, smile sweetly and speak nicely, so as to attract more customers and sell things faster. She lived up to her efforts, and got her initial investment back within only a few days.

After three weeks of work, the stall owner decided to end her career. Although the daily profit is considerable, she also found that setting up a stall every day is actually very tiring. Not only is it physically exhausting to move and put the products in place every day, but to attract more customers, it is also very energy-consuming to keep smiling and stay enthusiastic all the time. As the novelty of setting  up a stall wears off, it will be the patience of the stall owner that is tested.

四川德阳

这位卖冰粉的摊主同样也是大学生,经营的理由和许多同龄的摊主相似——体验生活、磨练意志。于是他叫上三两好友,开始售卖冰粉这种夏天常见的美食。它制作过程简单,材料都可以提前备好,本身也很受大家喜爱,是从零开始摆摊的好选择。

摊主选择在家附近的一个人流量较大的小广场摆摊。每天晚上八点之后,摊主会和朋友一起把桌椅和所需的食材,比如椰果、新鲜水果等搬到楼下,开始营业。5块钱一碗的冰粉吸引了很多饭后出来散步的居民的注意,每天平均可以卖出10-20份,最高的一天晚上卖出了25碗。小孩和女生是消费的主力,一个有意思的发现是,摊主告诉我们,目前还没有男性去他们的摊上买过冰粉。

虽然没有刻意计算过,但摊主认为冰粉卖五块钱一碗是完全可以让他们回本的。同时他也提到,在这30天里,他们摆摊是很辛苦的,做不到每天都出摊。但在他们出摊的日子里,他和伙伴过得很快乐,也很享受这种自己赚钱的感觉。如今他们的部分材料已经用完了,他们准备继续采购,把这个小摊经营下去。

Deyang, Sichuan

This stall owner is also a college student, and his reason for starting a business is similar to that of many stall owners of the same age – to experience life and hone his will power. Therefore, he called a couple of friends to join him and started selling a common dessert in summer: Jelly. The process of making Jelly is simple, and the materials can be prepared in advance. It is also very popular and is a good choice to start from scratch.

The stall owner chose to set up a stall in a small plaza near his home, where there is a large flow of people. After 8 am, the stall owner and his friends will move the tables, chairs and required ingredients, such as coconuts and fresh fruits, to the downstairs and start business. A bowl of their Jelly for ¥5 each has attracted the attention of many residents who come out for a walk after dinner. The Jelly stall can sell an average of 10-20 bowls of Jelly every day, and the highest record was 25 bowls sold at one night. Children and girls are the main consumers. An interesting fact is that the stall owner told us that no man has ever bought Jelly at their stall.

Although they have not deliberately calculated it, the stall owner believes that selling Jelly for five yuan each can definitely make profits. At the same time, he also mentioned that during these 30 days, it was very hard for them to persist in showing up every day. But during the days when they did set up the stall, he and his partners had a very happy time and enjoyed the feeling of making money by themselves. Now that some of their initial materials have been used up, they will continue to purchase the ingredients and operate the stall.

 【卖好吃的总不会错】

贵州贵阳

在北师大附中高中部门口的那条街上,走几步就能碰见一个小吃摊,洋芋粑、炸鸡排、烤肠、冰激凌、烤冷面,各种小吃应有尽有。摊主有上了年纪的大爷大妈,也有正直壮年的小伙,他们每天靠摆摊为生,起早贪黑,风雨无阻。

因为这条街在学校门口,平时也不会有其他人经过,所以北师大附中的学生们就成了他们的主要营业对象。快到放学时间,三轮车上就支起一口大锅,新鲜的蔬菜和肉肠丢入热油,“唰”地一声冒出一股浓烟,炸食物的香气瞬间迸发而出,叫卖声、锅具碰撞声、食材入油的滋滋声交织在一起,学生们从学校鱼贯而出,总会忍不住买一些小零食一边走一边吃。

据一个在那条街上卖了几十年串串的摊主说,他们的蔬菜是自家种,然后在工坊里面加工的,肉是在批发市场买的。在平时放学和周日返校的时候生意比较好,其他时间就会去人流量更大的地方摆摊。

贵阳的地摊一直都很多,这条路偶尔也会有城管来管,但摆摊的并没有减少。

[Selling food never goes wrong]

North Normal University High School, Guiyang, Guizhou

On the street at the entrance of the Beijing Normal University subsidiary High School, one can see the food stalls within a few steps, which sell fried potato, fried chicken, grilled sausage, ice cream, grilled cold noodles, and all kinds of snacks. The stall owners include elderly men and women, as well as upright young men. They make a living by setting up stalls every day, regardless of the weather or time.Because this street is at the entrance of the school, usually no other people would pass by, and the students nearby have become the main customers.

When school was about to be over, a big pot was set up on the tricycle, fresh vegetables and sausages were thrown into the hot oil, a thick smoke came out with a “swish”, and the aroma of fried food burst out instantly. The sound of clashing and the sizzling of ingredients are intertwined. The students swarmed out from school, and they couldn’t help but buy some snacks while walking home.

According to a stall owner who has been selling skewers on that street for decades, their vegetables are grown by themselves and processed in some workshops, and the meat is bought at the wholesale market. Business is better on sundays and on weekdays when school is over. During other times, they would go to places with more popularity to set up stalls.

There have always been many stalls in Guiyang, and the city management team would come by occasionally to manage this road, but the number of stalls has never decreased.

北京

【平谷大桃摊】

望京科技园,一个繁忙而快节奏的地方,中小企业的聚集地,似乎和地摊没有什么联系。但就在这个区域,就在门口的一棵树下,连块布都没有铺的地方,一个小摊诞生了。小摊售卖的商品朴素而单一:桃子。

摊主之一是望京科技园内的上班族,他告诉我,自己每天早上五点半起床去自家园子里摘桃,用袋子装好后用车拉到这边,下班了之后再卖。根据我的观察,每天这里不间断都有人看摊,不管是早上上班、中午拿外卖、晚上下班、甚至是工作时间,都能看到有人在叫卖,所以我推测卖桃的不止一个人,应该是轮流在卖。

科技园里基本都是20-30岁的年轻人,而一个科技园里可以容纳上百家公司,因此人流量是巨大的,他们每天都有新的客人,就连门口的保安室都买了一袋。因为地处偏僻,整条街又全是公司,所以没有城管来这边查,小摊已经存在快一个月了依然安然无恙。

一线城市的“地摊经济”或许真的对经济也是有所促进的。北京不只有中心城区,也不只有每天上班打卡的白领,也有着很多住在郊区,家里还在种地的居民。地摊经济可以缓解他们水果蔬菜的囤积,尤其是在盛产水果的夏天,有谁不想来一颗水灵多汁的平谷大桃呢?

Pinggu big peach stall, Gate of Wangjing Science and Technology Park, Beijing

Wangjing Science and Technology Park, a busy and fast-paced place where small and medium enterprises gather, seems to have nothing to do with the stall economy. But just in this area, just under a tree at the door, where there is even no single piece of cloth, a small stall was born. There is only one, simple kind of good: peaches.

One of the stall owners is an office worker in Wangjing Science and Technology Park. He told me that he gets up at 5:30 am to pick the peaches in his garden, puts it in a bag and pulls it here with a car to sell. According to my observations, there are people watching the stalls here every day. Whether it is going to work in the morning, taking takeaway at noon, leaving work at night, or even during working hours, you can see someone selling them. So I guess there is more than one person selling peaches. They sell the peaches in turns.

The science parks are full of young people aged 20-30, and a science park can accommodate hundreds of companies, so the flow of people is huge. They have new guests every day, even including the security room at the door. Because the stall is in a remote area and the whole street is full of companies, there is no urban management monitoring the place. The stall has existed for almost a month and is still intact.

The stall economy in first-tier cities might actually promote the economy. Beijing does not only have central business areas and white-collar workers, but also many residents who live in the suburbs and are still farming at home. The stall economy can help lessen their storage of fruits and vegetables, especially in the summer when fruits are abundant. I mean, who doesn’t want a juicy Pinggu peach on such days?

北京

【菜摊——与城管斗智斗勇】

这个地摊形式比较特殊,不是放在地上而是放在车的后备箱里卖。我去的那天正好路边停着一辆城管执法的车,开始我并没有在意,走向了这辆卖菜车。

我首先询问菜的种类和价格,其中一个阿姨大声回答:“我们的菜不卖!是小区里的人之前向我们预定的,已经装好了,我们只是在等他们领”,而后当我询问在哪定菜时,阿姨再次强调:“这都是别人定好的,我们不卖”,这前言不搭后语的回答让我有些迷茫。正当我以为来错了地方时,阿姨观望四周后把我拉近,放低了声音说:“我这是说给旁边的城管听的,看到那边那辆车了没,一直在看着我们呢,不让我们卖菜。你要什么菜,要多少都行,我给你称。”此时我才重新注意到旁边的那辆城管执法。

这对阿姨自称来自平谷(北京的一个郊区区县,以桃子盛名),她们售卖的蔬菜和水果都是自己家种的,每周一三五用车拉到城里来卖。当阿姨拉开车门我才看到,不只是后备箱,汽车后排的座位和地上都摆满了一袋袋的蔬菜。最后我花20元买了一袋3斤的桃子,价格略高于市价。

通过我每天的观察,有不少居民去这个小摊买菜,城管也偶尔会来制止她们售卖蔬菜。在北京的其他地方,很难看到有真正的地摊。有一次我在地铁站口看到了一个骑三轮车卖烤冷面的人,当天确实吸引了很多人购买,但第二天他就销声匿迹了,再没有出现过,由此可以看出,北京对于地摊的管控依然严格。

[‘Fighting’ against the city management]

Vegetable stall, Gate of Tiantongyuan Community, Beijing

This stall is special since it is not set up on the ground, but rather in the trunk of a car. There happened to be a car for city management and law enforcement parked on the side of the road the day I went. Initially, I didn’t notice it as I walked to this vegetable cart.

First, I asked about the types and prices of the vegetables. One of the women replied loudly: “Our goods are not for sale. People in the community ordered them from us before and they have already been installed. We are just waiting for them to come and take them away,” and then when I asked how I could order for myself, the woman claimed again, “These are all ordered by others, and we do not sell them.” I was a little confused by her self-contradicting words. Just when I thought I was in the wrong place, the woman looked around and pulled me closer, lowered her voice and said, “I’m saying those to the city administrator next to me. Did you see that car over there? It has been watching us and won’t let us sell vegetables. What kind of vegetable do you want? No matter what you want, I can weigh it for you.” Not until then did I realize that there were city management vehicles next to us.

The women claimed to be from Pinggu (a suburb of Beijing, famous for peaches). The vegetables and fruits they sell are all grown in their own backyards, and are brought to the city by carts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. When she opened the car door, I saw more bags of vegetables on the back seat and the floor of the car. In the end, I bought a bag of 3 catties of peaches for 20 yuan, which was slightly higher than the market price.

According to my daily observations, many residents go to this small stall to buy vegetables, and the city management will occasionally stop the sellers from doing business. In other places in Beijing, it is difficult to see real stalls. Once I saw a person riding a tricycle selling grilled cold noodles at a subway station. It did attract a lot of people to buy that day, but he disappeared the next day and never showed up again. From this, we can see that Beijing is still strictly controlling the stall economy.

【结论】

有一点需要说明:调查者本身的角色(学生)会使调查对象具有筛选性。我们多住在生活水平较高的大城市,因此很难访问到因疫情而失业或是事业遭到打击、转而摆摊来维持生计的“完美案例”。所以,这次调查更希望了解的是一个人靠地摊为生的可行性:摆摊的前期准备工作是否复杂、门槛高不高?经营时需要投入多少,回报又是多少?过程中会遇到哪些障碍?

[Conclusion]

One important point should be illustrated, which is that our role as a student makes the subjects of our investigation highly selective. Most of us live in big cities with higher living standards, making it hard for us to visit the ‘perfect cases’ in which people are hit hard or lose their jobs because of the pandemic and turn to the stall economy for a better life. Hence, our investigation focuses more on the possibility of living on a stall business: How complicated is the preparation? Is the bar high? How much should one invest when running a stall, and what’s the return? What problems would one meet in the process?

在前期准备上,摆摊的启动确实简单,这也是地摊经济被认为能够改善民生的主要理由。只要决定好业务,从进货到出摊,整个流程都很容易。

Regarding the previous preparation, starting a stall is indeed quite easy, which is also the main reason why it’s considered to be a great opportunity for improving the livelihood of people. As long as one decides on his business type, the whole process from purchasing to setting up a stall is simple.

难点在于维持生意。在调查前,我们本以为摆地摊最大的阻力来自监管。但调查后才发现,很多地方监管宽松,而严格的城管尽管使生意难做,也从未能阻止真正以地摊为生的人,北京菜摊一例中,摊主更是设法在城管的眼皮子底下做起了生意。

Maintaining the business is the hard part. Before the investigation, we thought that the biggest obstacle would be city management. However, later, we find out that the management is quite slack in many places, and even if there is strict monitoring, it can never stop those who actually live on the stall business. As we can see in the case of the vegetable stall in Beijing, the vendor even managed to sell products under the eyes of the inspectors.

同样,摆摊的艰辛也不会是一个大的阻碍。卖食品也好、小商品也好,主打的都是薄利多销,而为了尽可能的增加销量,用力叫卖、早出晚归,都是难以避免的。一个人若是下定决心全职摆摊,这些都只会是工作中很自然的部分而已。

Furthermore, the hardship of running a stall would not be a big hindrance either. Whether it’s selling food or small items, the profit is made by charging low and selling more. Therefore, to increase the volume of sales, it is inevitable to work for long hours. Had one made up his mind to live on the vendor business, these all become a natural part of a job.

因此,我们认为,做地摊最大的难点是迎合城市人的需求,而这背后归根结底,是商业专业度的缺乏。

Thus, in our opinion, the biggest difficulty of being a street vendor is to cater to the need of the urban population, which can be boiled down to the lack of professionality.

从各个调查案例中可以看出,可以保持稳定客流量的售卖品还是食物,或是现做先卖的小吃,或是应季的新鲜水果。毕竟,吃是各地人都会有的刚性需求。然而其他地摊类型,无论是套圈圈游戏、宠物还是小商品,每一天的需求量受摆摊环境等其他因素的影响很大,并不能保证稳定的生意。

It can be seen from the various cases that food is the kind of product that can attract a stable number of customers, which includes homemade snacks, fresh fruits and so on. After all, eating is a rigid demand of human beings. For other kinds of business, on the other hand, whether it’s the ring game, pets or other small commodities, the demand each day is highly subject to the surroundings of the stall and other factors, which cannot be guaranteed.

举个例子,作为顾客的你被某商场的“后备箱集市”吸引而来,却发现所售卖的东西要么是跳蚤市场才会出现、标价“3元”的童书,要么是网店进货、无法评估质量的小饰品。童书,没有人会专门来地摊寻货;对于小饰品,你很难说服自己为什么要在这个摊位买,而不是再走三分钟进入商场的任何一家精致店铺,用稍高一些的价格买个安心和体验。

For example, as a customer, when you are attracted into an outlet by its car boot sale but only to find that the products are either 3-yuan, second-hand children’s books, or small accessories purchased from online stores whose quality cannot be guaranteed, hardly anyone would come to a street vendor on purpose to find a children’s book, or persuade himself to buy some accessories here at the street vendor instead of taking extra 3 minutes to go into the shopping mall and buy them in a fine store. The price might be higher, but the buyer can feel more at ease.

当然,对于售卖者而言,这些问题是可以解决的。如果一个卖家经过分析思考,发现自己的小饰品竞争力不如附近的商业店铺,那么他可以选择发展出自己的优势,比如极度低廉的价格。如果摆摊区域附近的居民是对价格不敏感的类型,那么他还需要在个人特色上多动脑筋,或是干脆换一种业务。

Of course, the problems are solvable for sellers. If one can analyze the situation and think thoroughly, he would find that his accessory business cannot compete with the commercial stores around. Next, he can choose to develop his own advantages, such as an extremely low price level. If the local residents are not sensitive to price changes, then he might have to think harder on his unique selling points, or simply change his business type.

由此可见,除了食品以外,一般类型的地摊经济所天然拥有的优点——低门槛、低成本而带来的低价格——在商品种类齐全的地区是不具备压倒性优势的。尤其在上海这样经济水平较高的城市,消费者并不会轻易为低价买单。一旦顾客对质量有要求,地摊的那一点点价格优势也不那么重要了。而在品控、消费体验和经营策略等方面,商铺对地摊都堪称“降维打击”。零售本身就有一套知识体系:店铺如何定位、选址、进货、营销,甚至培养客户粘性,这都是学校中值得花学分去学习的课程,而一个从零起步的地摊摊主并没有准备这些的机会。

As you can see, except for food, the natural advantages of the common types of street vendors– easy entrance, low cost and therefore low price– are not overwhelmingly competitive in regions that have a full range of goods and services. Especially in cities like Shanghai, where the overall consumption level is relatively high, customers would not be more convinced to take out their wallets simply for a low price.  Moreover, in aspects such as quality control, shopping experience and strategies in management, stores gain the upper hand of street vendors in every sense. Retailing itself can be unfolded into a knowledge system. The positioning, selecting location, purchasing, marketing and even cultivating user adhesiveness of a store can almost make up a 4-credit course in college, but a street vendor beginning from zero has little opportunity to get prepared.

所以,就个人角度而言,至少在我们考察的地区,仅凭地摊为生比较困难,但赚点外快是可以做到的。如果每个人的小小的生活改善积累起来,地摊经济作为一种规模化的模式是否能够加速经济复苏?

Hence, on a personal level, at least in the regions we investigated, it is hard to make living solely by running a stall, but it can certainly help one earn some extra money. What if all this small but substantial growth add up together? Can the stall economy, as a large-scale model, help accelerate the recovery of the economy?

我认为可以,但见效不一定快。一方面,市场的筛选需要时间。不是所有的地摊都能盈利,也不是所有能盈利的地摊最开始就能盈利。经过市场的检验,摊主可以更理解人们的需求、找到属于自己的赚钱的方法,当然也会有摊主做不下去,公共资源转而给更好的地摊。随着地摊精细度、专业度的提高,地摊经济的力量会越来越强。

My answer is yes, but the results cannot be observed instantly. On one hand, it takes time for the market to select the fittest. Not every stall can make profits, and not every profit-making stall succeeds at the very beginning. Tested by the market, stall owners can better understand people’s demand and find their own approach to make money. Certainly, there will also be vendors that cannot make it, and thus the public resources can be yielded to the better ones. With the stalls becoming finer and more professional, the strength of the stall economy will absolutely become more observable.

另一方面,各个城市也需要放开监管。毕竟,监管对于地摊业务的打击是切实的。好消息是,近期的政策开始鼓励一个与地摊经济相似的概念:“小店经济”。7月,商务部等7个部门专门发布了《关于开展小店经济推进行动的通知》,目标到2025年培育小店经济试点城区100个,形成人气旺、“烟火气”浓的小店集聚区1000个。直觉上,“小店经济”之于“地摊经济”多了一层规范性,但在政策宽松的环境下又具备地摊经济的低门槛和低成本。中和了两种经济模式优点的小店经济或许真的是一条好的出路。[5]

On the other hand, it is necessary for cities to loosen their management. After all, the monitoring does have a negative impact on the stall economy. Good news is, recent policies have been promoting a very similar concept: the “store economy”. In July, 7 government sectors, including the Department of Commerce, released a notice on developing the store economy. The document reads that the goal is to cultivate 100 pilot cities for experimenting the store economy in 2025, as well as 1000 store clusters that have ‘a sense of bustling’. Compared with the “stall economy”, this concept has another layer of orderliness, but in a slack policy environment, it also possesses the qualities of easy entrance and low costs. Perhaps, this economic type really is a way out.

总之,对于地摊经济的未来,我们拭目以待。

All in all, let’s wait and see the future of the stall economy.

【后记——调查的反思】

OCA对于地摊经济的实地考察以及笔者的这篇文章,从调查的深度和广度而言,确实无法给予一个客观全面的见解。毕竟,我们可以探索摆地摊的过程,却很难看到真正需要靠摆摊为生的、那些真正从“地摊经济”中受益的人。《新京报》的《总理说的6亿人月收入仅1000元,他们都是谁?》一文指出,那6亿月收入1000的人群主要是农村人口,且由于中国东西部经济的巨大差异,这些人基本集中在中西部地区。

[reflection]

To be honest, both the field research by OCA and this article cannot provide an objective, comprehensive, and profound insight given the depth and width of the research. After all, for us who live in big cities, we can explore the process of setting up stalls, but the real beneficiaries of the stall economy can hardly be seen by us. According to Beijing News, the 600 million people who have only 1000 kuai as monthly income are mainly living in rural China. Also, given the big difference between eastern and western China, most of those people come from midwest China.

上海纽约大学的学生,住在一二线城市居多,平均生活条件也很不错,被疫情打击到的概率会比一般人低不少。平心而论,这次调查,我们只看到了自己想看到的东西,而多少人被疫情冲击得生计不保,又有多少人真正靠地摊经济养家糊口,我们哪里看得见呢?

As compared, most students from NYU Shanghai live in first-tier and second-tier cities, whose families enjoy a decent life and are less likely to be vastly influenced by the pandemic. Frankly, in this research, we have only discovered what we expected to see. How can we find out about those whose livelihood is being destroyed by COVID-19 and those whose livelihoods depend on the stall economy?

因此,这样一次实地调查的意义,更多是抛砖引玉——从走出校园、观察社会开始,思考自己对社会的价值。地摊经济如果行不通,那怎样才能增加就业率?我们学经济、工程学,甚至哲学思想、平权主义,究竟能不能帮助解决世界上的真实问题?当疫情这样的黑天鹅事件到来时,我们的知识技能能否转化为实际力量?

Thus, the meaning of this field research is more like food for thought. It serves to help us think about our contribution to society by making us step out of the campus and start observing the world. It keeps us pondering: If the stall economy doesn’t work, then how can the employment rate be increased? Can the courses we’ve learned on economics, engineering, and even philosophy and egalitarianism, actually be applied to real-world problems? When a black swan like the pandemic arrives, can our knowledge and skills be converted to strength?


[1] http://www.xinhuanet.com/politics/2020-05/29/c_1126047196.htm

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.gov.cn/premier/2020-06/01/content_5516569.htm

[4] http://scnews.newssc.org/system/20200528/001072833.html

[5] http://www.chinatax.gov.cn/chinatax/n810341/n810755/c5154622/content.html

This article was written by Tao Wen, Cecilia Sun and Anakin Wang, currently based in Beijing and Shanghai. You can reach out to the authors at tw1810@nyu.edu.

Photo Credit: Pinterst

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