In the first part of this two-part article on Ochama’s WeChat messages to the Chinese diaspora in The Netherlands, we read how JD’s brand of pick-up stores isn’t very active on western social media but all the more on the Chinese popular app. In this second part we dive deeper into the way Ochama recruits ‘experience officers’ and extra pick-up points in the Chinese community and uses aggressive price comparisons, while introducing something called ‘618’ to the Dutch and teaming up with Dutch retailer Blokker.
Blokker and more pick-up points
On March 22nd Ochama announced that it had added several Blokker branded products to their assortment. Blokker is a Dutch non-food retailer, focussing on household products. At the time of writing it offers 103 Blokker products in its assortment. Ochama adopting Blokker products in its range was quite remarkable since the two have highly overlapping assortments. This announcement would be a precursor for more to come.
A serious limitation of Ochama’s services has been that it cannot home deliver fresh and frozen foods, as I described in an earlier article. On April 13th it seemed to be attempting to do something about this by announcing it was recruiting additional pick-up points in 22 cities in The Netherlands. With the exception of the first message on Ochama’s WeChat account, this became the most-read message so far, with over 2.000 readers.
Potential pick-up points had to meet the following requirements:
- be a registered company or individual merchant
- have >20 square metres in busy areas such as business districts, near universities or communities, and having a certain ‘offline traffic and online community base’
- be open for more than 4 hours a day, with someone on duty to receive, store and record self-pickup orders
- be equipped with networked computers, scanners, shelves, Wi-Fi and other infrastructure
In return for serving as a pickup point, the merchants would get:
- Stable monthly self-pickup order fulfilment commission and incentives for various activities.
- Stable free traffic and strong brand endorsement of JD.com. Free traffic to the store (Ochama users picking up their orders), ultra-low-cost popular products (Ochama’s assortment) and various activities every month.
- VIP services for major customers and ultra-low purchase prices for cooperative merchants, relying on supply chain advantages of the Netherlands and China.
In other words, a commission, store traffic and low purchase prices when buying through JD.com wholesale.
This recruitment campaign in WeChat explains why, on May 5th, Ochama all of a sudden announced the arrival of more than 30 new pick-up locations on top of their 4 own stores. Most, if not all, of the pick-up locations turned out to be Chinese restaurants, travel agencies, grocery stores and other Chinese owned businesses.
While the added pick-up locations do offer an outcome for some consumers that want to buy fresh and frozen products with Ochama, the lengthy list of Chinese businesses, which are also presented as pick-up locations in the app, does little to help position Ochama as a brand for the Dutch market and shake off potential negative connotations.
On June 17th ten more pick-up points were announced on Ochama’s WeChat account.
On May 19th it became clear that adding Blokker items to its assortment wasn’t the only aspect to Ochama’s cooperation with the Dutch retailer. News in Dutch retail press announced a partnership with Blokker, which would start acting as Ochama pick-up points in some of its stores, starting in Den Haag and with Rotterdam, Zoetermeer, Amstelveen and Breda to follow. In a new list published in the WeChat account, Blokker sits awkwardly among a long series of Chinese businesses. The second Blokker pick-up location in Zoetermeer was announced on June 1st.
While Ochama orders can be picked up at their own stores the same day, if placed before 11 AM, customers must be a bit more patient when using Blokker or any of the other third-party pick-up points. At Blokker, orders are only available for pick up from 1 PM to 5 PM the next day. The WeChat message announcing the cooperation offered a bar code for a €2,50 Blokker discount, to be used when picking up an Ochama order. Remarkably, this discount was not offered to Ochama’s Facebook followers.
With their pick-up locations expanded to more than 30 locations, Ochama started a new type of recruitment campaign on May 27th. It was looking for 100 ‘experience officers’; Ochama fans that were willing to promote the brand. Those signing up were promised a ‘blind box’ (basically a box with surprise content) worth €50. The accompanying pictures left little to the imagination though.
Candidates were asked to scan a QR code and register by filling in a form. The form explained that Ochama was looking for people that use Xiaohongshu (link in Dutch), a popular social commerce platform in China. If you had more than 100 followers or likes on that platform and your account was at least 6 months old, Ochama would give you the aforementioned ‘blind box’. What’s expected of these ‘experience officers’ was not explained in the form, but sporadic posts showing picture of the ‘blind box’ content can be found on Xiaohongshu, where Ochama also has an account with 530 followers, most likely mostly Chinese living in The Netherlands.
On May 18th and June 12th Ochama aggressively compared their prices to those of other outlets. Prices of various baby products, household electronics and household supplies were compared with those at Albert Heijn, Etos, Amazon, Douglas, Mediamarkt, Coolblue, Lidl, Amazon, Kruidvat and Bol.com. It even compared some prices of Philips products with those on supplier Philips’ own web shop and with Blokker! I can’t imagine their new strategic partner being amused. Just imagine someone buying those products and picking them up at Blokker.
The message focusing on baby products added: “During this pandemic, your baby’s health is the most important thing!” Considering Dutch codes of conduct for advertising of baby food, which forbids appealing to feelings of fear, this is another example of Ochama pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable.
Price comparisons are not forbidden in The Netherlands, as long as they are not misleading and can be easily verified by consumers. It is however hardly a commonly used tactic anymore, especially since it can be easily countered by the counterparty by lowering its prices.
And that brings us to June 2022. On June 8th Ochama’s WeChat account announced that 618 had arrived in Europe! From the 10th to the 18th there would be different discounts every day. Unlike all the promotions and campaigns that were described above, which were mostly limited to the Chinese readers, this promotion was also communicated in the app. But what many Dutch folks will probably have asked themselves is: ‘What the heck is 618?!’
618 is the biggest Chinese online shopping festival after Singles Day (Double 11). It was launched in 2010 by JD.com and refers to the day the company was founded in 2009. Unlike Singles Day, which has been copied by some Dutch e-commerce platforms (but haven’t seemed to perform exceptionally well), 618 is completely unknown in The Netherlands. As such, few people will have understood what is was when it was announced in the Ochama app. I could not find any information on what 618 was supposed to be in the app or on the Ochama website.
Of course the shopping festival was no mystery to Ochama’s WeChat followers, who were asked to share a screenshot of their 618 order between June 10th and 18th on Instagram, Facebook, Xiaohongshu or WeChat Moments. The ‘benefits officer’ running the account promised to reward them with a coupon.
And there you have it. A peek in the weird and wonderous world of Ochama’s WeChat account. It shows us the fascinating but (according to western standards) sometimes aggressive way in which Chinese platforms are used to marketing themselves. An endless stream of coupons and gifts is handed out for signing up, asking friends to join, sharing content on social media and more. Direct price comparisons aren’t shunned, and neither is the occasional advertising claim that might be crossing a few boundaries when measured against Dutch legislation and good taste. The administrators of the account might claim that this is a culturally normal way for Chinese people to communicate, but Chinese descent does not mean Ochama is exempt from following local regulations when advertising to Dutch citizens.
All in all it’s a flashy and hyperactive world and it leaves me thinking …
… why don’t we much activity elsewhere in The Netherlands? Why isn’t Ochama spending its online efforts on building up customers among the Dutch audience? Surely, these stores were not just built to service a fraction of those roughly 100.000 Chinese in The Netherlands? With an average of 1.000 readers per WeChat message, depending on the diaspora is not going to win Ochama any wars. Putting so much attention on such a small group, while limiting social media activities to the Dutch audience to posts on promotions on Facebook and asking people to join Instagram … Ochama seems to be clutching at straws.
One could even complain that the Chinese diaspora is being favoured with deals and offers not available to regular Dutch folks that do not use WeChat (why would they?, link in Dutch) and do not read Mandarin. If I was a loyal Ochama customer, I would not be amused.