China dispatch: The mystery of Mizuno

When I lived in Japan twenty years ago, one pricing practice seemed completely bizarre, until I gave in and accepted it as official policy. Like every other American visiting Japan, I discovered that everything made in Japan cost more in Japan than it did after it had traveled 10,000 miles across the ocean to go on sale in the United States. The answer as to why that should be so would take a book to explain.

In China the pricing mystery is similar -- and different.

In fact there are two mysteries:

First, how can all the Armani, Gucci, Prada, and Cerutti stores stay open in Shanghai, when I have never seen even one customer in any of them? The lack of customers is not the mystery -- the prices are higher than they would be in New York or Milan. It's the continued existence of the stores.

Second, why do my Mizuno running shoes cost the same here as they did in Washington DC? For years I have favored Mizuno "Wave" and "Wave Creation" shoes for long-distance running. They fit my feet, and they keep me less-injured than other shoes have. At the local running store in Washington, they were about $100 a pair. The labels inside my US-bought shoes said, 'Made in China,' so I assumed they would have to be somewhat cheaper here. I mean, what about freight costs? And tax?

But at the local Mizuno outlet on the other side of People's Square, in Shanghai, the same shoes cost 800 RMB -- just over $100. What is the deal? For now I just don't know.