I thought I’d written all I wanted to say about JD.com’s Ochama ‘omnichannel’ stores. Until I stumbled on their WeChat account … While Ochama shows limited activity on western social media in The Netherlands, its Chinese WeChat account is bursting with price comparisons, strange promotions and cumbersome customer acquisition campaigns. Only available to those who use WeChat and read Mandarin …
Earlier this year Chinese e-tailer JD.com opened four Ochama pick-up stores in The Netherlands. The fumbled concept has left many people, among whom me, far from impressed. For a newly launched concept Ochama has remained relatively quiet on western social media. When checking their social channels, the Facebook icon on Ochama’s website turns out to link to a personal page of one Max Visser (a case of ‘the intern screwed up’?). Admittedly, it does show two Ochama logos.
Ochama does have another official Facebook page though. It has 248 followers at the time of writing and often posts about current discounts, most of which receives no or just one ‘like’. It also organises competitions to acquire followers on Instagram.
On that Instagram account they have 54 posts, again mostly promoting current discounts. Twitter is even worse, with 3 posts, the latest concerning a January opening of a store, prompting a Twitter user to write: ‘This twitter account is just like the shops, nothing to do and not a person in sight”. Ochama’s YouTube channel has 2 videos.
While tumbleweeds are blowing through most of Ochama’s western social media accounts, the brand is remarkably active on China’s most important app: WeChat. Ochama opened an official account (link in Dutch), enabling it to post messages comparable to western e-mail newsletters to its followers. Since posting their first message on January 10th Ochama has posted almost 50 times, clearly picking up speed in May.
Since Ochama doesn’t have any shops in China, these messages are obviously targeted at the Chinese diaspora in The Netherlands, especially younger Chinese that use WeChat and have probably come to study and/or work in The Netherlands. The number of views per message ranges from a few hundred to slightly more than 2.000. It’s quite low for Chinese standards, but maybe not all that bad considering it is trying to reach a niche audience in The Netherlands. In 2018 the Dutch population born in Greater China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan), or having at least one parent born there, was estimated to be 92.000, or 0,54% of the total population.
Initially Ochama’s WeChat messages explained how their pick-up stores and app worked, announced openings of the four shops, explained the loyalty scheme and how to get free parking at the shops. Soon the messages started announcing new products added to Ochama’s assortment, with special focus on Asian snacks. Other messages announced upcoming discount coupons, while the messages also started incorporating the same banners that can be seen on the English website and in the app. If things were unclear, followers could add an ‘Ochama Assistant’ to your contacts and chat with that account directly.
Campaigns by Ochama are often forwarded on the WeChat account of GoGoDutch, a popular WeChat account among Chinese diaspora in The Netherlands, thereby reaching a much wider audience.
Babies and the Benefits Officer
The tone of voice in the messages soon started changing, becoming louder while the messages clogged up with animated stickers and memes. Followers were called ‘babies’ (宝宝们, bǎobǎomen), a common term for followers in China, while the writer identified as their ‘benefits officer’ (福利官, fúlì guān).
In one message Ochama told followers that now that Dutch energy prices were rising it would guarantee the lowest retail prices for Asian food and drinks in The Netherlands. If they found lower prices elsewhere, they could let the ‘Ochama assistant’ know by sending screenshots. Prices would then be adjusted asap. This offer was said to be exclusive for the ‘babies’ in the WeChat group, but I fail to see how prices on the platform could be lowered specifically for this selection of people.
May 12th saw a break from Ochama’s standard approach of showing multiple products in their messages. On that day it focussed on one specific product: a neck pillow from Thailand. Was this a change in their communication approach? May 13th saw Ochama spend a full newsletter on the Xiaomi Redmi Watch 2. By doing this is seemed to mimic a different WeChat official account, ‘Ochama good things’ (Ochama 好物, Ochama Hǎowù), which seemingly wasn’t an official account and stopped posting around the same time. The new approach didn’t seem to be a nig success. Besides these two messages, which had fewer readers than normal, there have been no messages dedicated to specific products.
On February 9th Ochama announced a rather cumbersome member-get-member scheme, handing out discounts and free products to users that convinced others to download the app and join Ochama-related WeChat groups. They could even win an €888 voucher (8 is a lucky number in China) or a PlayStation 5. The top 50 recruiters would become ‘super experience officers’ and were invited to free afternoon tea and roundtable talks. Mid-February a message claimed that Ochama already had 20.000 members. In the meantime, I started wondering why I’d never seen these kinds of promotions in social media channels for a Dutch audience.
On April 14th Ochama started another member-get-member campaign. The ‘benefit officer’ asked users to have a maximum of 5 friends download the app and use the existing user’s phone number as an invitation code (the one used to register on the app). The friend would receive a €20 coupon and you would receive a €5 coupon per new user. If this deal wasn’t enough to convince you, the message patriotically mentioned: ‘The robot warehouse store from China is amazing!! Lets you feel the strength of the motherland while picking up the goods!’
A message on June 1st brought another customer acquisition campaign. When registering an account in the app using invitation code ‘ochamawx618’ new customers would receive a coupon pack with a total value of €25. The first 100 followers that would share this message in their WeChat Moments (a timeline comparable to Facebook’s timeline) and send a screenshot to the ‘benefits officer’ were promised a ‘buy 2 get one free coupon’.
On Chinese social commerce platform Xiaohongshu (link in Dutch) a user complained about this campaign. The coupons were actually worth €4 or €5 and required purchases ranging from €15 to €40 euro. Home delivery would cost €4 and take 2 days. She claimed to be one of many people complaining about Ochama and suggested others to use rapid delivery companies like Gorillas or Getir instead.
On February 21st Ochama announced a group-buying promotion for members of the WeChat groups. If 5 people teamed up to buy a Xiaomi product they would receive 10% extra discount, to be issued in the form of coupons by the ‘Ochama assistant’. After buying a Xiaomi product you could once again post about it on your WeChat Moments and send a screenshot to the Ochama Assistant. You would then receive an unspecified gift pack worth €10.
It wouldn’t be the last time group-buying was organised: on March 29th and May 18th Ochama announced group-buying campaigns for baby products for a range of electronics. Again, I wondered why regular Dutch people that want to buy these products miss out on these deals.
If you are an Ochama customer that can’t read Chinese and are not on WeChat, you are not only missing out on those group-buying deals but also on other remarkable promotions. On March 30th Ochama announced a promotion to help the ‘babies’ with their high fuel costs. ‘Ochama provides an additional €10,000 to subsidise more than €100,000 in fuel costs in The Netherlands!’ If you would take a recent gas station receipt for €50 or more to an Ochama pick-up store, you would be given a €5, €8 or €10 coupon if you picked up an actual order.
On April 1st Ochama tried something else for their buy-one-get-one-free campaign: fear and scarcity marketing. It warned the ‘babies’ that The Netherlands was lifting epidemic control measures and it would soon be too late if they didn’t immediately start stocking up on large supplies of groceries. According to Ochama there was a chance of shortages and price increases. “If you don’t stock up now, you may not be able to buy it later. (..) Miss this opportunity to stock up and you may regret it in the future.”
False claims like these are forbidden according to Dutch advertising laws. Ochama seems to forget that these laws apply to their messages targeted at consumers living in The Netherlands too, even if they are Chinese. But it worked. The alarmist title of the message made it an outlier, with almost 1300 views. The previous month’s average had been 800 per message.
On April 25th Ochama once again seemed to show disregard for the Dutch advertising laws by offering discounts ‘up to 40%’ on Heineken beer. The promotion was repeated on May 23rd. According to Dutch legislation it isn’t allowed to offer alcoholic drinks at discounts over 25%. It’s not clear from the promotion if the discounts above 25% only applied to the alcohol-free products. Remarkably, Ochama’s Facebook page showed an advert mentioning the legal maximum 25% instead of the 40% in its WeChat messages.
In the second part of this article, we will learn how Ochama added more than 30 Chinese businesses to their network of pick-up points, teamed up with Blokker, while starting aggressive price comparisons and introducing something called 618 to The Netherlands.