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Picking up a loaf of bread and a Gucci bag

By XU JUNQIAN and CAO YIN (China Daily)

10:35, May 24, 2013

Luxury handbags on sale at the Century Lianhua Supermarket in Hangzhou on Saturday. (China Daily/Xu Yan)

Chinese shoppers are so hungry for luxury items that they have started snapping up Gucci wallets and made-to-order shirts while grocery shopping.

In Zhejiang province's Hangzhou, one of the largest hotbeds of the emerging wealthy class, Century Lianhua Supermarket Heping Branch has set aside an area for Italian luxury and tailor-made brands.

And business has been brisk, with six deals, including two Prada bags, made within two hours, according to a reporter from Today Morning Express in Hangzhou.

"Sales are OK, close to our expectations," said Chen Xiaohong, a director of Hangzhou Lianhua Huashang Group, the headquarters of the supermarket, though declining to tell the exact sales number.

According to Chen, the group has been working for two years with the China-Italy Chamber of Commerce and foreign distributors to get seven luxury brands like Gucci, Armani and Prada and a dozen Italian tailor-made brands into the supermarket.

"It's the first time for our group," if not nationally, Chen said. "We see it as a trial to test the market for an upgraded shopping experience."

In 2012, the 140,000-square-meter Hangzhou Tower, a shopping complex that offers 80 percent of all of the world luxury brands, raked in 5.9 billion yuan ($950 million) of sales.

Some industry insiders disclosed that Hangzhou boasts the highest sales among all cities in China for a number of luxury brands.

But professors of government administration said that sales of luxury products in supermarkets could provide a breeding ground for corruption by officials, as the supermarket allows the use of prepaid cards to buy products worth tens of thousands of yuan.

"It can breed corruption easily because the method of consumption is not transparent," said Hu Min, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Governance in Beijing.

However, Zhu Lijia, from the Chinese Academy of Governance, argued that luxury brands in supermarkets cannot necessarily be related to corruption and will not affect consumption with public funds.

"It's common to see luxurious goods sold at special zones in supermarkets, and everyone has a right to buy them, whoever he or she is, as long as it is through justifiable means," he said, adding that corruption depends on officials' self-discipline instead of opportunities to buy luxuries.

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