President Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign may have created a new business on the mainland: serving "important people" in an extremely low-profile, or even secret, way.
I was back in Shanghai for a quick trip recently and dropped by several big shopping centres on Nanjing Road, one of the mainland's busiest streets. Ironically, these shopping centres - and, in particular, the big luxury brand shops inside - didn't look busy at all. They were almost empty.
I asked my friends how these shops survived in such circumstances. Some laughed at me, joking that I had been away from Shanghai for too long, saying I was out of the loop on all the latest tricks.
Social media, such as the microblogging service weibo, has become an effective tool to help the public monitor and report their suspicions of bribery and corruption. So, nowadays if someone important wants to buy luxury products but for some reason does not want to be seen in the shop, he or she just calls a hotline and asks for the product to be delivered to their home, where they pay cash on delivery.
So, how do these important people choose between all the different designs of handbags and shoes without visiting the shops? They use the internet or browse the product catalogue that are sent to VIPs on mailing lists.
One of my friends in Shanghai's retail business said many of those luxury shops' hotlines have grown busier since Xi took office earlier this year and quickly launched a nationwide campaign to fight corruption on all levels. That explains why, although the shops may be empty, business is not be as bad as you'd think.
Such practices are understood to be prevalent in Hong Kong's luxury shops as well. Wives and daughters of senior government officials will do their best to avoid visiting the luxury goods shops in Tsim Sha Tsui when they travel to Hong Kong, for example. Instead, they call VIP hotlines and whatever they want can be delivered to their hotel rooms within just a few hours.
They can even avoid going to restaurants so as to avoid being reported for participating in expensive banquets.
How can they do that? Well, in Shanghai, there are now a few new private clubhouses that are popular among VIPs. They may appear to be nothing more than old three-story villas in an ordinary residential area, but behind that façade you may find the top chefs of the city's most famous hotels and restaurants cooking private dinners for VIPs.
Membership fees for such private clubhouses range from one million yuan (HK$1.26 million) to five million yuan annually and if you pay something around five million yuan, some private clubhouses will allow you to have "endless banquets" throughout the year for no extra charge, said a friend who has tried the new and special service dedicated to serving these VIPs.
There is a popular saying among the general public on the mainland: whenever there is a measure taken by the government, there will soon be a countermeasure. That's the key of the unspoken tricks I learned from my Shanghai friends.
George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in the print version of the SCMP. Like it? Visit facebook.com/mrshangkong