Tue, Jun 14, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Hello Kitty boosts sales at 7-Eleven

KITTY APPEAL In the face of stiff competition from rival convenience store chains, 7-Eleven is once again using the trusted-and-true cartoon cat to increase sales

AP , TAIPEI

Hello Kitty, that ubiquitous symbol of cuteness, is using her enduring feline appeal to win customers young and old once again.

This time the benefactor is the 7-Eleven chain, which is offering coin-sized, three-dimensional badges of Hello Kitty in 31 different poses -- on a bike, making a wish, and even riding a shark -- to people who spend more than NT$77 each visit to the convenience store.

Since the campaign began early last month, sales are 20 percent above their level a year ago, said company spokeswoman Lily Lin.

By the time the promotion ends in the middle of next month, more than 100 million badges will be given away -- or four for every one of the nation's inhabitants, the company predicts.

Locked in intense competition with at least three other major convenience store chains, 7-Eleven chose a proven winner to boost sales.

Hello Kitty, created in 1974 by Japanese designer Yuko Shimizu of Sanrio Co, has an almost cult-like following across Asia, including the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and China.

There aren't many consumer segments where the Kitty doesn't pop up. She adorns clothing, house wares, cosmetics, jewelry, toys of all sorts, paper goods and electronics ranging from waffle irons to computers.

The character's appeal spans all ages, particularly among girls and women. But men buy Hello Kitty products too, often as gifts for their daughters, wives or girlfriends.

Mark Chen, an office worker in Taipei, found himself grabbing a box of cookies to put him over the NT$77 mark.

"This will please my two daughters, who anxiously await my return home each evening with the badges," he said.

Many nursery school teachers are using the badges as rewards for good behavior among their charges, Lin said.

"With Hello Kitty, we created a topic, a fad that won the participation of the entire nation," she said.

Seven-Eleven, a franchise owned by President Chain Stores Corp, paid Sanrio a fee for the use of Hello Kitty image but declined to disclose the amount, Lin said.

Taking note, rival convenience stores Family Mart and Hi-Life are considering fantasy character campaigns of their own, featuring stalwarts like Snoopy or Doraemon, the blue-and-white Japanese character with a pocket on his stomach, another popular character in Asia.

But Hello Kitty seems to occupy a special place in the nation's retailing tradition.

Four years ago, McDonald's stores sparked a frenzy by giving out Hello Kitty dolls -- and matching samples of her boyfriend Daniel -- attracting long lines of customers outside its restaurants.

More recently a bank encouraged new business by putting the Hello Kitty image on its credit cards, and several department stores featured her on their shopping bags.

But this year's 7-Eleven promotion seems to be the biggest one of all, with enthusiastic fans exchanging Hello Kitty badges on the Internet and attending collectors' meetings to fill in missing pieces.

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