Chickens on the run
Jun 23, 2017 (WiC 371)

Food safety and poverty alleviation are hot topics in the Chinese media so Alibaba’s rival has hit the public relations jackpot by combining the two in a programme that is part philanthropy and part profit.

The e-commerce giant has started a scheme known as Jindong’s Running Chickens (JD stands for Jingdong) in an impoverished part of Wuyi County in Hebei province. It’s working with 700 farming households that keep chickens, with the aim of helping them to sell free-range poultry to more affluent urban consumers.

There is a tech element too with each chicken fitted with a special pedometer that signals when the bird has taken a million steps and thus becomes eligible for sale.

After its millionth step the chicken is sold for up to Rmb188 ($27.51) on which takes the order online and uses its cold chain distribution network to get the bird to the purchaser.

From the farmer’s point of view, this end-to-end process ensures they get a much higher income from each bird reared than if they sold in local markets. The scheme has won plaudits from consumers too, though this being China, there are plenty of sceptics as well. Sohu Finance wonders if there might be a scandal down the road when some of the wilier farmers work out how to scam’s poultry pedometers and fake the million steps. But for the moment city-dwellers keen to dine on a truly free range chicken are delighted with’s innovative approach.

A Starbucks on every corner?
Jun 16, 2017 (WiC 370)

How many Starbucks outlets are there in the Forbidden City? Since 2007, the answer has been zero. The café in the corner of the imperial palace was forced to close following criticism that the brand was encroaching on China’s heritage (criticism that was initiated by an international visitor, apparently).

But while the Forbidden City is off-limits, the remainder of China’s cities are fair game for the global coffeehouse. The Party secretary of one city, Xi’an, is even lobbying for more.

“Xi’an only has a little over 40 Starbucks at the moment. This definitely isn’t enough. I think 400 would be more appropriate,” Wang Yongkang was reported to have said last week.

21CN Business Herald believes Wang was tapping a popular notion that the prevalence of the brand in a city reflects the area’s economic might, and so the newspaper set out to determine if Xi’an really did deserve that much coffee.

Its findings showed that the city with the most Starbucks stores is Shanghai with 539, followed (not very closely) by Beijing at 231, Hangzhou at 125 and Shenzhen at 109. Xi’an ranked in tenth place with 40.

But is it an accurate reflection of economic might? Shenzhen’s GDP is greater than Hangzhou’s, so the Starbucks indicator seems as weak as some of its coffee. Per capita disposable income has a greater correlation, but that measure kets Guangzhou snatch fourth place from Shenzhen. Nor is the number of tourist visits to a city and the average spending of those tourists a perfect match with Starbucks store numbers either.

21CN also challenges the mayor’s call for more Starbucks in Xi’an. It says the city’s share of Starbucks is about right for its economic condition, having considered a number of factors like the ones above in determining Xi’an’s commercial vitality. If Xi’an wants to drink more coffee, it needs to strengthen its economy from all sides, the newspaper suggests.

But as a rough rule of thumb the number of Starbucks could be a new way to measure economic strength. Last year the chain announced plans to have 5,000 stores in China by 2021. Where it chooses to open next may now become a bigger bone of contention among the country’s competitive mayors.

Hardly a slam dunk?
Jun 9, 2017 (WiC 369)

The Chinese have started to embrace the sharing economy – a business model based on renting rather than owning. Think Mobike: a bike rental company with a presence across the nation (see WiC339).

Others contend that the concept can be taken too far. In WiC366 we reported on the rise of shared mobile phone chargers and the bearish views of some of its critics (including Wang Sicong, the son of one of China’s richest tycoons).

Other products have been getting the same treatment, including an umbrella renting business that has popped up in Guangzhou. Molisan (Magic Umbrella) charges its customers a Rmb20 deposit for a 15-day rental, after which the user can extend ownership by three days for free. After 18 days, customers are then charged Rmb0.5 a day. The firm intends to distribute up to a million umbrellas in Guangzhou this year.

Some people have praised the idea for its convenience; while others foresee that thousands of umbrellas will simply be stolen or damaged.

According to Reuters, the Chinese government expects revenues from the sharing economy to grow 40% this year, raking in Rmb4.83 trillion ($705 billion), and that the sector will account for 10% of GDP by 2020.

Will shared basketballs play a part in this future? Zhejiang-based Zhulegeqiu thinks so, and so do its investors, who have injected Rmb10 million in funding in the two months since its conception.

The firm, which keeps its basketballs in courtside lockers, already makes its services available in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Tianjin and Chengdu, and it has ambitions to offer rentable balls at all of China’s 100,000 public basketball courts.

Quite what the makers of umbrellas and basketballs think of the sharing instinct goes unremarked in the media, but presumably they aren’t quite as keen.

Deriding the long-term viability of much of the sharing economy, some of China’s netizens have even been wondering if “shared girlfriends” might soon join the start-up world. And to an extent the answer is that they already have. An app is already available called “I want to rent someone” where people offer their time and their talents for a fee.