Several of the posts in front of the Shanghai Costco are captioned “pretending to be in Los Angeles,” or “back to the west coast,” and show the influencers sitting inside shopping carts, holding pizza boxes and cups of Coke, or kneeling in front of the chain’s warehouse building. One of the influencers’ favorite spots is the store’s parking lot, where they can pose in front of the chain’s big logo.

Chinese consumers remain interested in America

Just like elsewhere in the world, influencer culture has taken off in China. Called “internet celebrities” in the country, some have obtained a status equal to movie stars, garnering followings in the tens of millions on the Chinese internet. The Costco snappers, whose followers range from in the hundreds to 200,000, post regularly about their outfits, visits to popular Chinese coffee shops and restaurants, and trips to fashion shows. Chinese influencers often appear to lead internationalized lifestyles, teaching people how to dress in American fashions, or showing off handbags from brands like Chanel, in a bid to appeal to followers who are eager to embrace a trendy lifestyle.

The influencers don’t seem to be trying to trick their followers into thinking they are really in LA. Rather, the photos are tongue-in-cheek guides to making one’s pictures look more exotic when options for travel are restricted.

“Costco is really great, the pictures taken there really have the vibe of being in LA! If you babes also want to take such pictures I suggest you arrive here at around 4pm, when the light is good…and remember to wear clothes with brighter colors!” posted a Xiaohongshu user this month. Another influencer on the app considerately reminded her followers that if they are not members of Costco, they should bring “props,” such as a pizza box and Coke, for taking photos, as members can go buy the items from the chain directly,” the influencer wrote. “If you cover the car plates [it] looks exactly like if you were in LA.”

The number of Chinese tourists to the US had been growing steadily in the two decades prior to the pandemic, bringing billions of dollars in tourism revenue for the country. Trade war tensions saw the number decline for the first time in years to around 3 million Chinese citizens in 2018. China was still the third largest source for overseas travelers to the US that year.

Costco’s popularity with influencers is an illustration of Chinese citizens’ ongoing interest in American culture and brands, despite persistent tensions between the two countries over trade, politics, and the spread of the coronavirus. Last month, tickets for the opening day of Universal Studios’ new theme park in Beijing sold out within a minute on some online Chinese booking sites.

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