2017 will probably go down in history as the year when the China O2O story really took off. They range from Alibaba’s Hema supermarket to shared mobile phone chargers to shared umbrellas. In a bizarre marriage of IoT devices and QR codes, consummated by the 2 major payment platforms — WeChat and Alipay, it seems like a match made in heaven!

I’ve attempted to click and describe 7 hand-picked examples of O2O applications seen in and around Shanghai. I’ve myself used each one of these, and also there’s a couple of these that I swear by. So, here they go:

1. HEMA — “New Retail” by Alibaba

No O2O story can start without mentioning Alibaba. And this one (the mother of all O2O use cases) is part of Alibaba’s “New Retail” initiative to seamlessly blend offline and Online retail experiences. With a chain of Supermarkets named “HEMA”, Alibaba has entered into the hyper-local groceries space, and how!

  • The aisles contain digital signages with QR codes, which can be scanned via HEMA App to “add items to a virtual cart”, while you are in the physical supermarket
  • You can checkout right there (via the App) and schedule your stuff to be delivered at any 30-min interval throughout the day

2. Mobike: Making the planet greener

This is by far my favourite China O2O startup / story / use case. Ever since it first launched last year, I’ve been hooked to the service, and have ridden close to 500 Km already. Dock-less biking is healthier, greener, and convenient. Triple Whammy!

What I love about them is that they stick to their mission, and are constantly innovating on the User Experience. For example:

  • You can Reserve a bike for 10 min while you walk to it.
  • You get extra points (redeemable) for parking your bike at appropriate positions

And my favourite one: During this Christmas Week, the usual “beep-sound” while unlocking a bike has been replaced by “Jingle Bells!” 🙂

3. O2O Massage Chairs (you heard that right!)

Now these have been in Shanghai for a while. At least 3 years – and would be one of the earlier applications, given that massages are popular in China for therapeutic reasons. Right from being in the middle of malls to co-working spaces, they are seen quite frequently. The use case is simple:

  • Scan QR Code, use WeChat / Alipay to pay the 3 RMB for the 10-min massage.
  • The fancier ones also have an in-built screen that you can watch TV/content on as well. Which can also be purchased on-the-fly while you get the massage!

4. Umbrella-sharing (at Subway Stations)

Yes, you heard that right too! — Since the last monsoon seasons, we’ve seen a few of these “umbrella-sharing” startups sprouting up on metro/subway stations. The use case is:

  • Scan QR Code, register to be a member. Pick-up umbrella at Subway Station.
  • Drop-it-off at the closest convenience store (they’ve tied up with the likes of Family Mart / 7–11 / Lawson’s, etc)

The verdict is not out on this one yet. But it is an interesting take for sure. And really useful on those days when it suddenly starts pouring!

5. Anywhere charging for your phone

Phones are getting smarter. And battery life is getting shorter. So a few smart men decided to marry IOT with QR codes, and launch these chargers which can be rented at restaurants and coffee shops @ 1 RMB / hour. So, how does this one work?

  • Scan QR code, pay 1 RMB via WeChat / Alipay (usually with a 99 RMB deposit. Select Android / IPhone, and a drawer opens up with a portable charger inside.
  • Take it to your table, change for an hour, and then drop it back before you leave.

6. Passport / visa photos at Subway stations

Pretty simple and self-explanatory. It’s a small photo-booth. Fully automated. How does it work?

  • Stand in front of the camera. Get yourself clicked. Choose Visa / Passport Type, as needed. And Print!
  • The good part is, you also get a QR code ID. So the next time you need a few more photos, just walk up to any of the booths, retrieve your photo from their cloud DB, print and go!

7. Karaoke “in a Box”

Waiting for a movie to begin? Or for your turn at a popular restaurant? — No worries. Get into a “Karaoke Box”, scan QR code, select your songs and sing. These have been cropping up across malls in Shanghai.

  • Gamification: Your music can be rated, and you can compete with your friends by linking your social profiles.
  • Oh, and if (like me!) you love your own singing, you can immediately transfer the recording to your phone via WeChat!

Love the pace at which O2O innovation is happening here in China. And I’m sure there’s innovation happening elsewhere as well. Any interesting O2O examples you’d like to share?

Amit Haralalka
Amit Haralalka, General Manager & Business Head, China & North Asia, is responsible for spearheading Capillary’s venture into China and North Asia, helping solve problems unique to these Asian markets. Amit’s ingenuity has seen Capillary make strong inroads into these highly competitive regions to work with leading brands. An MBA from IIM - Lucknow, Amit has played key roles at Capillary across sales, marketing, customer success and operations. He is also a published author, having penned the non-fiction work, "The Fresh Brew".
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