If one had to single out two industries in which customers have benefited enormously from competition, they would be the Shanghai retail sector and domestic retail banking. Thanks to the central and municipal government authorities' willingness to allow foreign competition, the city's retail industry has metamorphosed from one known for rudeness and shoddy goods to one that comes closest to matching the service standards of Hong Kong. Today, intense competition for the retail dollar means sales staff are forced to do their best to woo customers through courteous service. Even big retailers cannot afford to be complacent. Shanghai No 1 Department Store - the mainland's biggest retailer in sales terms and a must-see landmark for out-of-town visitors to the city - has been upgrading its image, variety and after-sales services to keep customers. Once associated with bulk sales of standard household items and untrendy stock, the retailer now has an entirely new building to sell clothes, computers, sports wear to the Chuppies - the upwardly mobile Chinese professionals. Indeed, today, it boosts the best-equipped sports wear department in town. Yet not all retailers react to competition in the same way as No 1. There are still sales staff who are so aggressive in their sales pitch that they frighten away more customers than they win for sales. Still, it is no exaggeration to say shopping in Shanghai is more pleasant today than five years ago, although the variety is still smaller than in Hong Kong, and the trends one or two seasons behind the SAR. But this is to an extent compensated by the generally cheaper prices for most goods, except for imported brands. Banking is another example of a business that has improved noticeably in recent years - thanks again to Beijing's readiness to open domestic banking wider to foreign participants. Four or five years ago, people wanting to carry out standard retail banking activities - such as depositing or withdrawing local or foreign currency - were often exasperated to find banks closed during lunch hours, the time when most office workers are free to do these mundane banking chores. You would be forgiven if you thought banks were open to suit staff convenience instead of their clients'. Today, the presence of about 50 foreign bank branches - the biggest number in the country - has forced domestic banks in Shanghai to treat their customers with respect. Newer and smaller banks, such as Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, are not only more innovative in coming out with new schemes to woo customers, but are more friendly than their bigger counterparts, the state banks. In contrast to retail and banking, the Shanghai health-care industry continues to be monopolised by the state, and with it comes rude service. Poorly paid and overworked doctors and nurses often translate into unpleasant experiences, unhygienic observation rooms and dirty toilets for the patients. Indeed, so nasty can the experience be to some foreigners that the suggestion of being hospitalised can be devastating, and they would rather have self-medication than visit a local hospital. As experience in the retail and banking industries show, competition can make a whole lot of difference to the health to a business. As a general rule, the greater the competition, the better it is for the end-users and, ultimately, the entire business.