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 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 am sharing my experiences and thoughts about JD’s Ochama stores.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from analysing China’s new retail concepts it’s this: don’t believe the PR, go and try for yourself! More often than not, new concepts are presented as the best thing since sliced bread in channels like Alibaba’s Alizilla website but fail to impress in real life and are often not even used by customers. Concepts that have been leaning heavily on gimmicks have come and gone from the Chinese retail landscape.
As such, I have been relatively sceptical about Ochama’s claims of being ‘the future of shopping’ from the start and the many missed deadlines and sometimes flawed e-mail campaigns (see the first article in this series) didn’t help build confidence. But I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubts and go and try it out.
After downloading the app (which I will describe in more detail in another article) I decided to try out Ochama’s proposition:” 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 place a home-delivery order and later a pick-up order for a day I had to visit the Dutch city of Rotterdam, which had one of the 4 Ochama stores.
After installing the app and registering, I found Ochama had kept its promise of giving me a €15 coupon as an early bird (to be used on any order of at least €16) as well as a €10 coupon for another order. I decided to use each coupon on one of the orders I would place.
After having explored the app a bit, I decided to first place an order for home delivery that consisted of fresh food, packaged products and non-food. After all, Ochama promised to be able to deliver this wide assortment. Initially, I tried to find a lot of products I normally have delivered by my regular supermarket (Albert Heijn) but found Ochama’s assortment to be quite limited. The world food category also turned out to be disappointing compared to other online stores like Amazing Oriental I often shop with.
After choosing home delivery I had to enter a delivery address. Next, an unpleasant surprise awaited me. When I choose home delivery upon checkout, my full order was split into two groups: one with all fresh and chilled/frozen products and another one with packaged products and non-food. After having spent quite some time gathering all those products the app informed me at the fresh and chilled products could only be picked up at a store! The other products could not be home delivered.
Besides the aggravation of only being told upon check-out, I simply could not comprehend why an e-commerce platform would promise home delivery for their assortment and fail to follow-up. Who wants to have half their order home delivered (for a €4 delivery fee, higher than the fee charged by many other web shops) while still having to drive to a store to pick up the rest? And as in my case, the nearest store might even be a 1-hour drive away!
An Ochama store clerk would later tell me that delivery of fresh and chilled products might be added in the future. But starting your services without being able to do cold chain deliveries while you promise convenient home delivery will be an immediate dealbreaker for consumers. I cannot imagine them being okay with not being able to order fresh and chilled products for delivery.
There is another catch with the ‘next day delivery’ that Ochama promises. You have to place an order before 6 PM in order to receive it the next day. Again, I was only told during check-out, and it was 8 PM when I was placing my order. I would have to wait two days for my delivery. Local grocery delivery platform Picnic takes orders until 10 PM, leading e-com platforms Bol.com, Coolblue and Amazon.nl take order for many products until midnight for next-day delivery. Ochama, with its promise of delivering food and non-food, does not even come close.
There is no information if Ochama delivers on Sundays, but when taking a delivery order all the way to the checkout page on a Saturday did not give any information that they do not.
Seriously annoyed, I deleted all the fresh and chilled products from my order and continued with a bottle of cooking wine and the latest edition of the Mi Band (I had been postponing upgrading from Mi Band 5 to 6 hoping to be able to visit China again). On the checkout page I could add one of my two vouchers (I noticed that it is sometimes automatically selected but sometimes you will have to manually add it). After adding my €15 coupon I paid, which turned out to be a smooth process.
Not much later I found an order conformation in both Dutch and English in my inbox.
I also got an e-mail from an unfamiliar company that I initially did not consider to be related to my Ochama order. The subject read ‘Appointment Confirmation.’ This had me confused because I did not recall making any appointment with this unknown company. Opening the e-mail, it turned out it had been sent by the logistical company that would deliver Ochama’s orders. I had never heard of Dynalogic before but later learned that they are often used to pick up telephones that need to be repaired. The term ‘appointment’ is definitely confusing here because we only use the term for real appointments, like with a doctor, not for estimated delivery times.
Dear Sir/Madam Ed Sander,
In this email you will find more information about your appointment with Ochama.com and what else you can expect from us.
Saturday 15 January 2022
Between 8:00 and 22:00
Order number: DT20221E000000061E
What else can you expect from us?
Until the time of delivery, you will receive several messages with information about your delivery.
In MyDynalogic Track & Trace you can follow our employee and you will see the expected arrival time on the day of the appointment.
If you have any questions, you can always visit our FAQ page.
Dynalogic Benelux BV
A delivery window between 8 AM and 8 PM seemed very inconvenient and I cannot recall any other delivery companies using such a wide range. Even UPS does better with vague promises like ‘at the end of the day.’ And it definitely did not match Ochama’s promise of ‘delivered to your home at a time that suits you.’ Neither in the Ochama app nor in the Dynalogic message was there a way to pick a more precise delivery time.
When I woke up the next day the Ochama app had a notification for me, sent at 5:59 AM: “Your purchase order with order ID: 630000960016 with Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 is ready for shipping.” I wondered what the information value of this message is supposed to be. E-Commerce companies normally tell you that your order has been shipped, as in having left the warehouse. Checking my e-mail, I found a new e-mail from Dynalogic, sent at 5:58 AM, was waiting for me. It did not have any more precise delivery time for me yet but did have a track and trace button.
We are coming
Dear Sir/Madam Ed Sander,
Below you will find more information about your appointment with Ochama.com.
Saturday 15 January 2022
Between 8:00 and 22:00
Via the button below you will find more information about the expected arrival time, and you can follow the delivery person in real time.
Track & Trace
Later in the morning I tried the Track & Trace button and was informed that the delivery window had narrowed to somewhere between 2:35 PM and 5:35 PM. At 3:27 PM I received an SMS message informing me the courier would arrive around 4 PM. The courier rang the doorbell at about 4:15 PM.
Immediately after delivery by a not-so-friendly courier that hardly looked up from his handheld device while holding his arm stretched out to hand me the package, I received a customer satisfaction survey from Dynalogic. A good opportunity to tell them their e-mails are weird, delivery time too vague and delivery folks indifferent.
We are curious about your experience
Dear Sir/Madam Ed Sander,
Your order will be delivered by Dynalogic on Saturday 15 January 2022.
Order number: DT20221E000000061E
Let us know how you experienced the service and complete the satisfaction survey.
Click here to start the survey.
Thanks in advance for your cooperation!
Dynalogic Benelux BV
I know this delivery company is not Ochama, but it is the service provider they have chosen, and it is an extension of their service level. For a customer, the delivery is an important part of the whole experience. Using a delivery company without a cold chain and sub-par service compared to their competitors while a customer pays a higher delivery fee than elsewhere is not going to make a good first impression.
But for now, I just wanted to go and check out my Ochama package. The two products were in there, but nothing else. No packing slip, no leaflet, no nothing. One week later I had not received any customer survey. Sure, the app offered the possibility to ‘leave a review’ but those were reviews on the product level.
I used to work on the marketing department of a big mail order company. One of our biggest learnings was that the first delivery is often the most important one; it can make or break your relationship with a new customer. And while we also could not fully control how friendly the couriers of the delivery company we used were, we did always ask customers for feedback on their very first delivery and thereby were able to gain lots of knowledge about things that went wrong in the process without us knowing. With these learnings we would optimize the various parts of the process, from mistakes in the warehouse to unpleasant delivery folks. When we were able to actively fix issues, it would often result in a loyal customer. We would also include something in the box that would trigger a repeat order, like an assortment leaflet or a reminder of a coupon. Ochama had none of that…
So, my very first Ochama order had arrived, but many of the promises the company had made had been broken. Based on the first experience with a limited assortment, inability to deliver fresh and chilled products and unclear delivery details I would normally not order with Ochama again.
But besides the fact that I had planned to also do a pick-up order, there were two other reasons to consider ordering again: I still had a second coupon for €10 and each €0,10 I had spent on my first order converted into points that I could use on a next order. These 279 points were added to my balance after delivery of my order. When those points would be given was actually also unclear. The app states: “Get 10% OFF! Upon order completion, 10% of the order amount will be awarded via member points.” I interpreted ‘completion’ as the moment I had paid, but Ochama uses the moment of delivery. No big deal, but why not avoid confusion and be clear about it?
The points scheme is quite a smart trick that makes you feel like you still have some credits you need to use on another order, which in turn will give you more new credits. But it has to be said, Ochama does give loyal customers 10% discount this way. I do wonder if it is fully compliant with legislation on sales promotions and if Ochama is allowed to claim ‘10% off’ if it does not apply to an active order.
I do not live anywhere near an Ochama store, but to get a complete picture of its service I had to try a pick-up order too. Fortunately, I had to do a presentation at a customer’s office the week after the opening of the Rotterdam store, so I decided to place a pick-up order that day and drop by the shop after my appointment.
This time I was especially curious how Ochama would handle the chilled and frozen products that they weren’t able to home deliver. I selected a few of those products, some packaged FMCG and a selection of Asian snacks from the ‘world food’ section.
I gather products for a total of roughly €40 – I want to be able to use my remaining coupon. This time I selected ‘pick-up’ upon checkout. I had to choose one of the three stores that had already opened as well as a 1-hour timeslot. This seems quite strict, especially considering potential traffic delays in the big cities (I would arrive half an hour later than planned, but still within my chosen timeslot). According to Ochama they will call customers that do not pick up their goods on time.
When checking my cart, I noticed that Ochama’s ‘same day pick-up’ came with its own limitations. You have to order before 11 AM and pick a pick-up timeslot after 3 PM. The reason is that, unlike what some of Ochama’s adverts might make you believe, your order is not gathered in the store but in a central warehouse. Products are placed in buckets that are transported to the various pick-up locations by trucks. The 11 AM – 3 PM time window allows for this. But it does mean that an order placed after 11 AM can only be picked up the next day! In that case, only timeslots on the next day will be available in the app.
It was already 7 PM when I want to check out my order. I decided to wait until the next morning, enabling me to see if an order placed before 11 AM would be fulfilled correctly. Next morning, I found that two items I had selected the previous evening were now out of stock. Fortunately, I still had enough to use my €10 coupon. I also wanted to use some of the 279 points I have gathered on my first order. Once again, the app surprised me: points can only be spent in multiples of one hundred (the equivalent of €1). Something they never mentioned in the explanation of the points scheme…
As with my previous home delivery order, I received an order confirmation by e-mail in Dutch and English telling me that the Ochama robots would ‘get to work right away.’ But this time I received two e-mails for two orders!
I immediately worried that I had done something wrong and accidentally ordered the same products twice. Since the order confirmation does not show any products, there was no way for me to see what had happened. Going back to the app, where my order was now in ‘processing’ status, I noticed how it had been split in two separate orders. Although I would pick everything up in the store, Ochama had again separated the product in an order for chilled/frozen products and the one for the rest.
Although I can imagine that these two groups of products are handled differently internally, it’s rather unnecessary not to mention confusing for a customer to also split into two orders in the frontend of the app.
At 12:41 PM I received two new e-mails, informing me (again in Dutch and English) that Ochama’s robots would (again) get to work right away. I wonder what they had been doing in the past 3,5 hours …
Both e-mails had a QR code I needed for pick-up of my two orders. Fortunately, you do not have to print these or have the e-mail ready at pick-up; they are also available in the app. It would however have been nice if the e-mail would tell customers.
Remarkably, while the e-mail claimed that the robots would get to work for me, I noticed that at 12:35 AM (6 minutes earlier) I had already received two notifications in the Ochama app telling me that my orders had already arrived at the store in Rotterdam! Each order in the app now also had the QR code for pickup.
After my meeting in Rotterdam, I made my way to the pick-up store, taking half an hour for what Google Maps claimed could normally be done in 10 minutes. I remember having read somewhere that Ochama has special free parking for customers, but those were nowhere to be seen when I arrived at the store. There was an undergroind parking lot a bit further down the road, but that didn’t seem convenient for a quick pick-up. I parked the car close to the store in a spot I was not sure I was supposed to leave my car and made my way inside.
I have to say the staff in the Rotterdam pick-up store were really nice and helpful and very willing to explain and discuss the concept. But I also had the feeling of being jumped on because they had very little else to do; I was the only person in the shop when I arrived around 5 PM.
After a chat and a look at the ‘showroom’ (more about that in another article), I made my way to one of the twelve or so pick-up terminals. Ochama seems to anticipate a lot of traffic, but I felt a bit awkward being the only one here. After clicking ‘start’ on the screen I was asked to scan my QR code, which I did with a QR code scanner below the touch screen. My two orders were shown even though I had only scanned one QR code; they probably show all open pick-up orders for the concerned customer. When I clicked on one of the orders, the concerned products were shown. Behind the pick-up stations and conveyor belt mechanical noises started coming from the circular rack that should normally be filled with crates of orders to be picked up (but was conspicuously empty). Yes! The robots were working on my order! But I was disappointed to find that I could not see much of the action: the robot that is supposed to be the star of the store is located behind the circular rack.
In little under two minutes, two plastic crates arrived on the conveyor belt. The robot had picked both orders, even though I had only selected one. One crate had a Styrofoam cool box with the frozen and chilled products, the other one had the order with the non-chilled products. I had to transfer the goods from the crates into paper bags that are available at the terminal. I wonder why the warehouse staff do not put products in a bag that can easily be taken from the crate. Compared to a pick-up at a local supermarket, where your groceries are waiting for you in crates that you can take home, this was a lot more hassle. The store staff informed me that I was welcome to take the whole cool box home, but not wanting to end up with a lot of trash, I decide against this.
To my surprise I was handed the goodie bag that had been mentioned in the introduction campaign’s e-mails (see the first article). I asked them if they handed out 1.000 per store but I was told that that number was for all stores. Two stores had been open for 10 days, one store had been open 2 days earlier. Between them they had not yet received 1.000 customers in 22 store days …
When I left the store and drove home, I ended up in the most horrible traffic jam on the Westzeedijk, the road leading to the shopping centre where Ochama is located. It took me an hour to cross a 1-kilometre stretch and get through the tunnel to the south side of the city. Maybe this was just an unfortunate coincidence, but I could not help thinking how much time it might take a citizen in Rotterdam to ‘conveniently’ pick up an order at an Ochama store.
Having tried both home delivery and pick-up I have to say that the chances of me trying home delivery again are close to zero. Ochama does not keep its promise of grocery delivery (it cannot deliver chilled and frozen goods) and the expected delivery window of 12 hours is very inconvenient. As far as assortment of groceries, delivery fees and deadline for ordering goes it also cannot compete with other grocery delivery options in the market.
If I would frequently commute past an Ochama store I might consider trying pick-up again, although I worry about products defrosting (Distrifood reported getting a defrosted pizza in their order). But to convince me to use pick-up again there really had to be other advantages compared to home delivery from my trusted Albert Heijn supermarket. In a next article we will see if such advantages exist, and we will also take another look at the app, website, and stores of Ochama.
To read the other articles in this series, click here.