For a while now, Chinese social media users have been posting shots from the same sprawling parking lot. Behind them are blue skies and an industrial building with bright red and blue font that reads: “Costco Wholesale.”
Besides Prada’s recent wet market takeover, another unlikely influencer hotspot found in Shanghai is Costco, the American store chain known for its boxy warehouse, wide variety of products, and competitive prices.
On RED, China’s Instagram-like social media platform, people share influencer-esque shots of themselves in front of the big-box store’s branch in Shanghai. Opened in 2019, it’s the first Costco store to operate in mainland China.
These Costco photoshoots on Chinese social media often share the same theme—references to Los Angeles and users “pretending to be in L.A.” are commonly found in the title of such posts.
The trend appears to have been going around for at least a year, with one post dated October 2020 sharing tips on how to take photos at Shanghai’s Costco so that it looked like Los Angeles.
However, after international reports of Chinese social media users supposedly “pretending they're in L.A.,” these old posts are now flooded with a fresh wave of critical comments by other Chinese netizens. Many accused these Costco photo takers of idolizing Western culture, a subject that’s especially touchy in China.
“This is just a regular supermarket for Americans, but surprisingly there are people taking selfies at the entrance. You’re really embarrassing yourself in front of foreigners,” reads one such comment posted in late October. In the post, a woman poses in a shopping cart, the iconic Costco sign clearly visible behind her.
A social media user who goes by Darcy on RED told VICE that likening Costco and its surroundings to a foreign city is simply an “objective description.”
“Costco originated in North America, and when it came to Shanghai, it retained its distinctive container-style design,” she said. “There’s no need for everyone to overanalyze the choice of words in the title.”
In August, Darcy posted photos of herself casually sitting in a shopping cart outside Costco, and showing off a large pizza—both popular photo concepts widely shared on Chinese social media.
“You’re being mocked abroad, the place that you aspire to be,” reads a comment on Darcy’s post.
It’s unclear if the influencers were really trying to fool their followers into thinking that they’re in L.A., but considering the numerous titles and captions that openly acknowledge the attempt to give off L.A. vibes, many of these Costco photos appear to be more tongue-in-cheek—a creative effort to recreate foreign sceneries during a time when international travel remains restricted.
“‘Pretending to be in L.A.’ has quickly become a way for influencers to earn clout… and leaving the country has become a challenge due to the COVID-19,” said Fiona Zhang, a social media user who has also hopped onto the Costco trend.
“Taking good looking photos while shopping is also one of the consumption ways of young people today,” said Zhang, adding that she thinks Costco has gone viral because it has an aesthetic that is currently rare in China.
For Zhang, Darcy, and others who vibe with parking lot photoshoots, the Costco issue is just a storm in a wholesale teacup.
“Influencers who share these photos online also hope that they can share their photo-taking experiences with viewers, and provide inspiration for lifestyle photoshoots,” Darcy said.
“Whether those who see our photos like our choice of scenery, depends on the individual. We can’t not share our photos just because some people don’t like them.”
A second Costco store in Suzhou is now preparing to open its doors to shoppers. With any luck, Chinese netizens may see a lot more Costco-core shots on their social media feeds.
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