Since 2017 I have been researching and writing about new retail in China. I have spent many weeks visiting and trying out various concepts in China and have taken Dutch retailers on study tours to show them how these concepts work. You can imagine my excitement when the news reached me that Chinese e-tailer JD.com was opening a new retail concept in my own backyard in The Netherlands. In a series of articles, I’m sharing my experiences and thoughts about JD’s Ochama.
Halfway through October 2021 a participant of one of our study tours pointed me to the news that ‘Chinese web giant JD is opening a supermarket in The Netherland’. Naturally, this first initiative of China’s second largest e-commerce platform in my home country sparked my curiosity. JD’s store was going to be called Ochama, most probably to avoid confusion with sports retailer JD Sports that was already operating in The Netherlands. Job adverts that started appearing mentioned how ‘JD.com wants to take the Netherlands by storm with a unique omni-channel approach’.
What’s in a name?
The store’s name later turned out to be a combination of ‘Omnichannel’ and ‘Amazing’. For the Dutch, the name can be quite confusing; how should the ‘och’ be pronounced? Like in the Spanish ‘ocho’ or with the guttural Dutch ‘g’ sound? Someone recently pointed out to me that when pronounced in Dutch it sounded a lot like a local expression of pity, ‘och arme’ (‘oh poor thing’). When I watched a promotional video three months later, I realized that I had been mispronouncing the name all the time, stressing the incorrect syllable. Considering most customers won’t be familiar with the term ‘omnichannel’ anyway, I wonder why JD didn’t go for a less problematic name?
At the time, in October, Ochama’s website had been taken offline, but in the weeks that followed more details appeared in local retail and wholesale business press. The first store in the university city of Leiden was supposed to open on 11-11. The chosen date must surely have been a reference to the Chinese Singles’ Day shopping festival. When this date neared, a clearer picture about what Ochama was all about slowly started forming. A test website that was accidentally accessible to Distrifood promised ‘a one-stop shop for a full category A-branded products at insanely low prices, offered at a pick-up point near you or with same-day delivery’. As we will see in a later article, few of these promises have been kept…
The store promised to sell both food and non-food products: ‘food, appliances, home life, gaming and much more’. ‘Members also receive exclusive coupons and always save 10 percent’. ‘Same-day click and collect makes online shopping even easier. No more planning ahead or staying home for delivery. Just use the QR code to order from one of our 4 high-tech pick-up locations and get the things you need when you need them most.’ Some of the Dutch texts had grammatical errors or were mistranslated. The Dutch text promised ‘Een robot die je auto inpakt? Zeker! Ga rustig, ga Ochama.’ Translated into English this means ‘A robot wrapping your car? Certainly! Go calmly, go Ochama’.
By the 11th of November it was obvious that Ochama was not going to meet its own deadline. The Leiden store wasn’t operational, but Ochama solved this problem by opening its doors for ‘curious visitors’ that wanted to have a look. It would take another two months and more missed deadlines before the store would finally open.
On November 11th Ochama did open up ‘early bird membership’ registration for 15.000 people signing up on their website. The confirmation e-mail I received after registering read:
You have just secured your spot as an early bird member! This means that you will soon be the first to receive free access to your new one-stop shop Ochama. With products from A-brands that you can pick up in one of our pick-up shops or have delivered to your home. Groceries, home accessories, electronics and much more in one store.
As soon as our pick-up shops open their doors, you will receive a notification from us to this e-mail address. We will then ask you to complete your registration, after which you will immediately benefit, and you can redeem your 15 EUR free shopping credit (and all other benefits).
As a member you receive:
– One-time 15 EUR shopping credit
– 10% free shopping credit on all your purchases
– Everything under one roof (food and non-food)
– Same day pick-up in a pick-up shop
– Fast delivery to your home
– Free return
Around this time, Distrifood wrote the Ochama stores would not open until December. An Ochama press release declared: ‘With the test location in Leiden, the omnichannel retailer wants to guarantee that everything works as smoothly as possible for its customers. By the end of this calendar year, the doors of the Ochama Pick up Shop in Leiden will open to the general public. In the coming months, Ochama will open three other Pick-up Shops in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam (Diemen), Utrecht and Rotterdam.’
In November and December pictures and videos taken in the Leiden store started appearing online. They showed a store with touch screens, conveyor belts and a ‘showroom’ area. But it was still far from clear how the whole purchase process was supposed to work.
After 5 weeks of silence, I received a new e-mail from Ochama on December 17th.
Just a little while longer. We’re almost opening! As an early bird you will soon be the first to gain access to the new one-stop shop Ochama. And that temporarily completely free! We offer you a whole new shopping experience.
We expect to fully open our first 4 Pickup Shops on January 10, 2021, in Amsterdam (Diemen), Rotterdam, Leiden, Utrecht. However, you, as an early bird, can experience the new shopping from January 3!
Two of the four shops, Leiden and Rotterdam, would indeed open on the 10th of January. The opening of the other two would suffer further delays.
Early bird access
You will receive a message from us before we open. We will ask you to complete the registration upon opening. At the right time you will receive this registration link directly by e-mail. A surprise is waiting for the first 1,000 visitors who decide to pick up their order in our Pick-up Shops!
The e-mail showed some product categories and invited me to ‘Have a look at a selection from our range.’ It probably referred to the pictures in the e-mail itself since none of them were clickable.
The e-mail asks me to tell my friends and family about Ochama. But instead of leading to some sort of ‘member-get-member’ webform the ‘share the link’ button just took me to the homepage of the Ochama website. Seemingly I’d have to copy the URL there and e-mail or message my friends and family individually. A link to Ochama’s ‘terms and conditions’ also led to their homepage; an issue that still hadn’t been fixed in e-mails I received a month later.
In The Netherlands, English proficiency is quite high, but I still think there was some unnecessary English headers in the e-mail. Ochama shouldn’t assume all recipients have the same level of education. The e-mail mentioned two Ochama addresses, one being the pick-up store in Leiden, the other one being their warehouse in Berkel en Rodewijs.
And then it was the 3rd of January, the day Ochama had promised to let early birds like me ‘experience the new way of shopping’. I was chomping at the bit. Another e-mail arrived.
Our one-stop shops in Leiden and Rotterdam will open from January 10! Our shops in Utrecht and Amsterdam (Diemen) will follow soon after. As an early bird you will be the first to get access to the new one-stop shop Ochama. And that temporarily completely free!
€15 shopping credit
At the opening on January 10, we ask you to complete your registration. You will receive the registration link by email that day. After registration you will receive a discount voucher of €15 in your account within 24 hours. All you have to do to take advantage of this is add your favourite products to your shopping cart and pay. The minimum spending amount to apply the voucher is €16.
Free goodie bag
And for the first 1,000 visitors who decide to pick up their order, a goodie bag worth €30 is available in our Pickup Shops! The free goodie bag consists of the following items: Yogho Yogho soy drink, Tony’s Chocolonely chocolate bar, Pukka tea set 45 bags, Unox pea soup, a bottle of Lipton Iced Tea Green, Ochama X scented candle and an Ochama shopper. Show your order confirmation to one of our employees in the Pickup Shop and the goodie bag is yours! Available while supplies last.
Hmm … no mention of the promised early bird experience of January 3rd, just another promise that something would happen on the 10th.
Another e-mail arrives, not on the 10th but on the 8th.
We open Monday! From Monday, Ochama’s one-stop shops will be open in Leiden and Rotterdam. But you can already download the app and become a member today! Register quickly and receive your discount voucher of €15 in your account within 24 hours. Quickly place your first order and pick up your order in Leiden or Rotterdam.
There will be a free goodie bag for the first 1,000 visitors! Show your order confirmation & this e-mail to one of our employees in the Pickup Shop and the goodie bag is yours! Available while supplies last. Don’t forget to take a picture of the unique Goodie Bag and tag us @Ochama_NL!
Download the app
Ochama brings you a whole new shopping experience. We’re here to make online shopping easier, simpler, and faster. With us you will find everything you need. Order easily via our web shop or app. You can pick up your order the same day in one of our innovative Pick-up Shops or have it delivered to your home at a time that suits you.
I would later find out that ‘pick up the same day’ comes with serious limitations and home delivery ‘a time that suits you’ is actually an unknown time, the next day between 8AM and 8PM.
Ochama Coffee moment
At Ochama, we continuously strive to provide our members with the best service and experience. We therefore invite you for a delicious cup of coffee or tea in one of our Pick-up Shops to share your experiences with us.
Register here and after the coffee moment you will receive a mystery box with nice products from our range worth €15.
The e-mail also contains a link to a commercial on YouTube.
The narration in the commercial goes: ‘Once upon a time there was a very special store … where robots are your friends … and where you can really find everything. From big brands to small groceries. From new gadgets to timeless tableware. A shop where you can pick-up or have delivered to your home. Go for A-brands. Go for benefits. Go everything. Go Ochama. Become a member for free and always receive 10% shopping credits.’
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I downloaded the Ochama app and later received an e-mail with confusing Dutch text. The subject line would translate to ‘Reminder at arrival of coupon’. The e-mail itself contained grammatical errors and very cringeworthy translations. It reminded me of e-mails OnePlus, another Chinese brand, has sent out and have clearly not been checked thoroughly by a native speaker. Some texts look like literal translations that differ strongly from how we say things in Dutch. Even when translating into English, some things don’t make sense: ‘The prices of all articles being sold on our website are subject to the changes of our website’.
On the 10th of November Ochama opened with an online live event. Remarkably, as a new customer (and an early bird at that) I wasn’t informed about this by e-mail. I assume the event was not actually meant for consumers.
But I had downloaded the app and could start ordering! The plot thickened…
In the next part of this series, I’ll share my experiences with Ochama’s home delivery and pick-up orders.
To read the other articles in this series, click here.