Chinese netizens are cashing in on the nostalgia for international travel in a quirky and creative way: posing in front of China’s only Costco store as if they’re in sunny Los Angeles.
On the Chinese social media and e-commerce app Xiaohongshu, known as “China’s answer to Instagram,” scores of young, lavishly dressed men and women have turned the American warehouse club into their muse. Dozens of posts captioned, “Pretending to be in Los Angeles,” often embellished by an American flag emoji, show people sitting cross-legged in shopping carts or lounging on the grass, framed by a crisp blue sky and the warehouse club’s bold, red logo.
Many users made props out of the store’s oversized merchandise, remixing their photos with pizza boxes and blue soda cups.
As the rest of the world loosens up travel restrictions, China has continued to impose one of the toughest border control systems since the pandemic began. Due to few and expensive outbound flights, strict quarantine rules and limited visa processing, most Chinese citizens have not been able to travel abroad for the past two years.
The deluge of Costco-related content, then, seems to be a product of wanderlust, emerging from young people’s longing to indulge in foreign cultures. It also reflects Chinese consumers’ longstanding, though waning, enthusiasm for American brands and products.
When Costco opened its Shanghai outpost in 2019, more than 200,000 people signed up for a membership. Opening day attracted so many shoppers that the store had to shut down within a few hours. The chain is preparing to open a second store next month in the city of Suzhou.
Some posts provide detailed tips on how to capture the Southern California aesthetic.
“The parking lot lawn by the Costco entrance feels like a sight of the West Coast,” one user wrote. “It makes you feel like you’re in L.A.”
Another wrote: “If you babes also want to take such pictures I suggest you arrive here at around 4 p.m., when the light is good, and remember to wear clothes with brighter colors!”
Budding influencers, some of whom have up to a quarter-million followers, also see the potential to make a buck by promoting the big box store to their base.
“The products inside are really a bargain!” one user exclaimed. “I couldn’t help but pack two carts full of fruits, snacks, necessity goods, cosmetics and electrical appliances. Everything you need is in there.”
“Those who want to buy goods from the stores can download the Costco app in advance to apply for a membership card,” another advised.
Other posts feature the hashtag “OOTD,” meaning “outfit of the day,” along with mentions of luxury brands like Ray-Ban, Chanel and Gucci.
One user, sporting a tight-fitting white tank top and black shorts, declared: “This is the style I particularly like to wear in America. It will never go out of date.”