China Consumer

Feel the chill

Viomi and JNBY bashed by customer backlash


Its kids line has been controversial

Millions of Chinese are talking more about their employment rights, as highlighted by the ‘Workers Lives Matter’ campaign, which galvanised thousands to share their onerous work schedules last week in a bid to counter the pervasive ‘996’ culture (see WiC449). But there is a longer tradition of consumers demanding their rights, with hectic campaigns against companies deemed to have disappointed them.

One recent headline-grabber centred around a ‘smart’ refrigerator made by Viomi, a high-end home appliances maker affiliated with Xiaomi. Priced as much as Rmb12,999 ($2,2021), the fridge is supported by voice recognition technology and boasts a 21-inch screen on its doors. It has been marketed as performing a wide variety of functions beyond supporting smarter grocery shopping, such as providing access to online video platforms and gaming, and serving as a controller for home automation systems.

But the problem with the fridge is that it comes with an avalanche of advertisements that can’t be switched off, according to one frustrated customer who aired his grievances on Xiaohongshu, a popular social commerce platform.

“It’s incomprehensible. The refrigerator that I spent so much on turned out to be a big fat screen for ads. You guys tell me if this counts as bullying, its so awful,” he fumed.

“After making you purchase these advertising machines, they use your electricity and your broadband to display ads that they charge third-party advertisers display! What a smart business strategy,” complained another netizen.

Although Nasdaq-listed Viomi put out a statement with advice on how to switch off the advertisements as they appear on its fridges, many customers were still frustrated with the company, calling for an ad blocker that prevented unwanted promotional content completely.

The subject has become a trending topic on weibo, attracting 64 million viewings. A poll below the hashtag found that more than a third of 3,700 respondents deemed Viomi’s intrusive ads “unjustifiable”.

Another company that has sparked annoyance among Chinese consumers is the fashion house Jiangnan Buyi, better known by the brand name JNBY.

Its problems began on September 19, when a mother complained on weibo about a design from the apparel firm’s kids collection.

Her post showed pictures of a child’s shirt that was printed with the slogan “Welcome to Hell” and replete with gruesome images. One picture showed a masked devil holding a hammer in one hand and a human leg in the other. A caption next to it read: “I just need a foot”.

Another picture featured a ‘breaking wheel’ (a technique for executions during the Roman Empire) onto which two young boys had been strapped. One had his feet chopped off, for good measure.

“I can’t help feeling disgusted at the thought of seeing a four-year-old clothed in such an item,” fumed the disgruntled parent. “Who did the appraisals for your products [before their rollout], JNBY?”

The post prompted other JNBY customers to look closer at their previous purchases. One highlighted the images on another shirt from JNBY, this time showing a boy shouting: “The whole place is full of Indians. I will take this gun and blow them to pieces.”

Another discovered an image of a piece of fruit and a couple of birds positioned provocatively between a naked woman’s legs.

The fashion company’s kids brand ‘jnby by JNBY’ immediately issued an apology for the “inappropriate” images and said that it had removed products likely to be deemed controversial from its shelves.

But in the statement it added that it had hoped to use “imaginative freedom” in promoting unique designs for kids’ clothing.

This message, which has been viewed 310 million times on weibo, was treated sceptically by consumers, who did not see it as sufficiently contrite.

In less than a week, JNBY saw its market capitalisation in Hong Kong shrink by over a fifth to a little less than HK$7 billion. The company recorded a net profit of Rmb647 million on revenues of Rmb4.1 billion for the year ending on June 30. 

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