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.
In the previous two articles I have described Ochama’s launch campaign and the experiences of placing a home-delivery and a pick-up order, which were at times confusing and disappointing. In this third article I am taking a closer look at the three consumer-facing elements of Ochama: the web, the app, and the store.
When you visit ochama.com on a mobile device, you are immediately redirected to a mobile website: https://m.ochama.com/earlyBirds.html . I wondered if the specific page had something to do with my early bird registration, but even after deleting my cookies I still ended up at this page. The mobile website is very limited and basically just points you to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store to download the app. Ochama clearly does not want you to use their website when shopping on your phone.
Besides the homepage the mobile site only has one other page in the menu, ‘membership’, which shows only one of Ochama’s four stores and a few membership benefits.
Ochama’s full website at www.ochama.com operates mostly as you would expect from an e-commerce platform, although with more limited functionality. For instance, there is no option to change the number of products shown per page and there is no standard selecting and filtering options in the left column. These only appear when you actually do a search query (see video). Unfortunately, the filter that appears after a search query does not seem to be very relevant to what you are looking for. Brands and price ranges in the filter do not apply to your search but to the full assortment.
All banners on the homepage open as new tabs, which is rather unnecessary since getting back to the homepage is easy and you will quickly end up with many open tabs.
Product navigation is not very intuitive, compared to other shops. When you mouse-over a category in the left column a box with sub-categories and sub-sub-categories opens. Clicking on a main category (e.g., Fresh) or first level sub-category (Potatoes and Vegetables) does not do anything; you can only browse second level sub-categories (Tomatoes and Cucumbers). When you do, the left column shows all first and second level sub-category, but not the name of the main category (Fresh) you are currently in.
In the Ochama site, product pages often look like they do in China, with a large numbers of pictures, sometimes uncomfortably large. In the app this works reasonably well since the pictures have been sized to phone screen portrait format. On landscape PC screens they blow up to enormous sizes, sometimes filling more than a full screen. In China an extreme number of pictures helps create trust (link in Dutch) in the quality of a product, but in the west this number of pictures quickly feels overdone. For examples, see the video below including this page for a pillow, this one of a coat hanger or this one for a water dispenser for your pet.
The FAQ of the website contains more than a few mistakes and inconsistencies. It claims, “We will send the invoice to your email address, be sure to also check your spam folder.” Invoices are however not sent to your e-mail after placing an order (and yes, I did check my spam folder on my PC and ISP server).
The returns policy mentions ‘For more information, please check Ochama Fresh Goods Guarantee’ and ‘For more information please check ‘Ochama Non-Fresh Goods Guarantee.’ These specifically named guarantees are not described elsewhere, at least not with a reference to those titles.
Other inconsistencies found on the information pages:
- The FAQ mentions ‘same day delivery,’ while Ochama only offers next day delivery (if you order before 6 PM).
- A page mentions delivery orders need to be placed before 4 PM, while this should be 6 PM.
- Pick-up information mentions ‘Orders need to be placed before 4pm for same-day pickup in one of our four shops’. This should be 11 AM.
In the previous article I complained about not being able to have fresh and chilled/frozen products home-delivered and only found out upon checkout in the app. The website does have this information on every product page (even for non-food products), but this is missing in the app where I placed my order.
As with my previous experience in the app, when ordering fresh, chilled, and frozen products I am told upon check out that ‘frozen items’ must be picked up in the shop (even when it does not concern frozen items but fresh and chilled ones). Accidentally, I also found that bulky items can only be home-delivered and not picked up in the stores.
In the Google Play store (yes, I am an Android user), where for some reason the app comes with a PEGI-12 warning for ‘sexual innuendo’, the app has twenty-nine ratings and a handful of reviews, some of which are rather questionable (as we will see in the next article). One review complains about the app sometimes being badly translated. This probably refers to the Dutch text, which indeed is sometimes cringeworthy. But the English text in the Play store description also has room for improvement (‘You say it, Ochama has it’).
Ny the way, you might also wonder why the Ochama website’s FAQ often refers to ‘the APP’ instead of ‘the app’. Well, that is what they often call an app in China: A-P-P. Someone seems to have forgotten to remove the capital letters when translating.
When I open the Ochama app I find it filled with small banners and buttons. It is basically the same ones as on their website but scaled down, which makes the texts so small I have serious problems reading them (even with my reading glasses). Maybe I’m too old and not part of the primary target audience, but still … Ochama did promise (link in Dutch) to also make ordering easy for elderly consumers.
The product category pages follow the same design you normally see in China: product categories in a left side bar and the sub-categories on the right. You normally will not find this menu structure much in western apps, but it is quite common in China because Chinese script, in which each one or two characters form a whole word, doesn’t take up much space. But ‘western text’ does, and the sidebar takes up a lot of space on the screen. As with the aforementioned banners, this does not improve readability and that is probably the reason why other supermarket apps don’t use such a sidebar menu. Fortunately, the sidebar disappears when you pick a second level sub-category. But when opening the lowest sub-category, the menu sometimes unfolds outside the visible screen.
Compare JD’s 7Fresh app in China and Ochama’s app below.
When I go through the assortment of food and non-food products, I find it to be a strange experience. You can order meat, vegetables, and packaged goods but also home appliances (including quite a few Xiaomi IoT products) and clothing. I wonder if the average consumer is ready for ordering their jogging pants while doing their weekly groceries.
To get a feel for the app’s structure and navigation, please check the screen recording below.
Two major problems with both the app and the website are that information is inconsistent and crucial information is sometimes hidden deep in FAQs. As we’ve seen in the second article, in the app you won’t know that you can’t order fresh, chilled and frozen products for home delivery, while this is mentioned on the web on every product. Other information, like Ochama not being able to deliver on Sundays, can only be found in the FAQ and is not clear during the ordering process itself. As with the website, the app has some inconsistent information about the delivery orders needing to be placed before 4 PM, while the app elsewhere mentions 6 PM.
Ochama currently has four pick-up stores in The Netherlands and is planning to open more in the future. Every store has 10-14 staff members.
Now, let’s get one thing clear immediately. The Ochama ‘shop’ is not actually a shop in the literal sense of the word. In a shop you should be able to buy stuff, in Ochama’s shop you cannot buy anything. So, what is it then?
There has been quite a bit of confusion about what Ochama is exactly. News articles appearing around the time of the opening of the first two locations on the 10th of January have written how JD.com’s Ochama would compete with Amazon Go. That has not helped since Amazon Go is really a totally different breed of retail. While you could compare Amazon Go to Chinese concepts like Bingobox (link in Dutch) or JD’s own unmanned stores since they are all convenience store concepts with cashierless checkout technologies, Ochama’s stores are really just pick-up locations.
The idea is that you place an order through the app or website and either pick it up at a store or have it home delivered. After placing the order in the app, the goods are gathered in the highly automated warehouse; one of those warehouses where little robots move the racks to the order picking staff instead of the staff walking to the picking locations in lanes full of racks. You can see it here in a segment of Ochama’s online press launch event.
JD.com has a warehouse in the Dutch town of Venray but the Ochama orders are fulfilled from a warehouse in Berkel en Rodenrijs, between Rotterdam and The Hague. The maximum capacity of the warehouse is 15.000 orders per day. Orders are either boxed and shipped to the customer’s address or put in a crate and transported to the chosen pick-up location twice a day (once for same-day and once for next-day orders). At the pick-up store the store’s robot places the crates in a circular storage rack.
Fresh, chilled and frozen products cannot be shipped for home-delivery, as we’ve seen in my test orders. In case of pick-up orders these products are put in a Styrofoam cool box. The store itself does not have cooling, which means that theoretically the products could remain half a day or longer in this box. Distrifood has reported (link in Dutch) picking up defrosted pizzas.
In other words, the Ochama store itself is basically a storage space for orders to be picked up. Customers check in by scanning a QR code (as shown in my video for the previous article) and an industrial robot arm will collect the correct box(es) from a surrounding circular rack (see this segment in the press launch video). A conveyor belt moves the box to the customer, who will have to take out the separate items and take them home in an Ochama paper bag or his own shopping bag or crate. Indeed, manual repacking by the customer.
Some of Ochama’s communication claims that your order will arrive 2 minutes after scanning the QR code while at other times 60 seconds is promised. In an interview with the COO, he mentions 5 minutes. My own experience was 2 minutes from the moment of scanning the QR code.
Remarkably, part of the Ochama ‘shops’ are designed to be ‘showrooms’ where people can admire selections from the assortment as if they were valuable treasures in a museum. But you can only pick up your order here. You can’t add anything to your already paid order, so if you see an interesting item in the showroom you can only place another order and have it delivered to your home the next day (for €4) or have to return to the pick-up store the next day (or later that day if it you place your new order before 11 AM). How exactly is that convenient?
In the information pages of the website, it says: “We provide you with 30 minutes of free parking when you pick up your order in our Pick-up Shop. Please ask our staff for the parking ticket by showing your order confirmation.” Again, this is not mentioned anywhere in the ordering process. It would have been great if I were informed in my order notification e-mails or push notifications. Not being aware of this, parking costs and time will be an extra barrier for potential customers.
Ochama offers free coffee at the stores. Not really unique since many supermarkets also do so. What’s more, the idea of sitting down for a cup of java seems contradictory to the idea of quick and convenient pick-up.
Overall, I found the user experience of app and website to have a lot of room for improvement. The UX sometimes seems to be based on the Chinese approach, which might not be the best for western audiences. Also, some elements from the web do not translate well to the app (readability of banners) and the other way around (enormous pictures on product pages). Finally, there is a lot of conflicting information, crucial information is much too hidden in information pages that few people will take the time to fully read and there are still quite a few flaws in translations and textual accuracy.
In the fourth and final article, I will evaluate how all my experiences add up to Ochama’s proposition to the consumer. Do we really need this concept?
To read the other articles in this series, click here.