First Starbucks, now Samsung, China’s state TV goes after foreign firms for “bullying” Chinese customers

October 22, 2013
October 22, 2013

Chinese state media just took aim at another foreign company: Samsung, which happens to make the most popular smartphones in the country. Late on Oct. 21, China Central Television (CCTV) ran a segment lambasting the South Korean company for charging Chinese customers for repairs of defective phones. The aim is to “protect domestic consumers from the bullying of foreign brands,” according to a government consultant interviewed. CCTV said software in Samsung Note and S series smartphones causes them to crash.

The report came just a day after CCTV and the China Daily attacked Starbucks for charging Chinese customers more than in other countries. (Starbucks has said that its prices in China reflect the higher costs of rent, employee training, and sourcing coffee and milk in the country.)

The difference between the two stories is the reaction they’ve elicited, at least online. The bulk of over 28,000 comments on CCTV’s Starbucks story on Sina Weibo, a massive Chinese microblog, were critical of the report, according to Tea Leaf Nation, a site that monitors social media in China. Internet users called the coverage unnecessary and questioned why state media devoted resources to investigating expensive lattes instead of issues like the rising costs of housing or healthcare.

By contrast, the half-hour segment on Samsung—with interviews of customers like a recently graduated young woman who spent over 4180 renminbi (about $680) on a Samsung phone that she says crashes 30 times a day—has gotten less attention from domestic and international media. But it is eliciting an angrier response from online users. On Sina Weibo, a link for the CCTV program prompted over 1,000 comments, many of them resentful. One blogger said, “The people’s interests are being infringed upon. The government should use the law to help protect the people.” Another said, “Boycott Korean goods!” (Samsung has said in response to the accusations, “We remain committed to providing the highest quality products and services. Upon verification of these reports, including their technical aspects, we will respond accordingly.”)

The attack on Samsung isn’t all that surprising. China’s leadership has been critical about foreign firms’ dominance of the country’s smartphone market, now the world’s largest. Earlier this year, CCTV aired a news program that accused Apple of treating Chinese customers as “second-class” and not offering to repair faulty iPhones for free.

Samsung could learn from that scenario. Apple’s initial response was to issue a curt statement defending itself. But the attacks from Chinese media continued, worse than before, and may have started to sway some consumers who were previously skeptical of the CCTV piece. Apple eventually issued a long and contrite apology. Samsung might be smart to go ahead and do the same.

 Jennifer Chiu contributed reporting.

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