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Exclusive QR Code-Based Service Under Fire: The 3 Major Downsides to Contactless Ordering

Self-service ordering is the norm in many restaurants across China, but its benefits do not always outweigh the downsides.

Manya Koetse

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QR code-based ordering is the new normal in Chinese restaurants, but contactless ordering also comes with major downsides. In a recent People’s Daily article, consumers’ rights expert Chen Yinjiang argues that contactless ordering can’t be the sole service option offered by businesses.

Along with China’s rapid digitalization, QR code-based ordering has become the norm for many restaurants across the country. Although many see QR code-based self-service – from waiting in line to ordering and paying – as a convenience that also saves the restaurant costs on staff, there are also downsides to these digital developments.

Contactless ordering is not just the new normal in many restaurants, it often also is the only way in which customers can order.

In a recent article published by Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily, the deputy secretary-general of China Consumer Protection Law Society, Chen Yinjiang (陈音江), argues that business owners in China should offer customers the choice, saying: “Consumers have the right to choose whether they want to order by scanning a code or order through a waiter. Businesses can’t just consider the costs without considering the customer experience – especially when they neglect the requirements of elderly consumers.”

Image via http://www.hnntv.cn/

On Chinese social media, the criticism of exclusive QR code-based service in restaurants has become a hot topic of discussion. The hashtag “People’s Daily Discusses QR Code-Based Ordering” (#人民日报谈扫码点餐#) received 280 million views on Weibo on Monday.

Both the People’s Daily article and the online discussions mention the following three major downsides to QR code-based ordering.

 
1. Missing the Communication with the Waiter

One downside to contactless ordering is that customers miss out on the experience of communicating their order directly with the restaurant staff.

One reason why people would prefer to place their order directly with the waiter is that it gives them an opportunity to inquire about the menu, get advice on the best choice to make, and to communicate any special dietary wishes and preferences.

But another reason is simply that talking to restaurant staff is part of the dining out experience, with self-service ordering being a rather bleak substitute for those people who would actually like to have some more human interaction when they go out for food.

“If a restaurant only lets people order through smartphone and don’t offer a menu, the entire sense of ritual [of eating out] is gone,” one person comments, with others agreeing: “Ordering food is part of the dining culture.”

 
2. Leaving the Non-Tech-Savvy Customers Behind

Contactless ordering is also a nuisance to the elderly and non-tech-savvy customers who struggle to scan a QR code and place an order. For them, the process of online ordering is not convenient or fast but actually makes their restaurant experience all the more difficult and complicated.

“We live in an aging society. We really need to have other ways of handling this for the future,” one popular comment on Weibo said.

Other commenters also indicate that even for people who are used to ordering online, the process can be a nuisance. When changing their mind about their order, or accidentally ordering a wrong item, the entire order is gone and the customer needs to start from scratch again. This makes the process far less convenient than ordering with a staff member.

 
3. Privacy and Spam Concerns

There are also those who find that QR-based ordering is an invasion of their privacy. Many restaurants require customers to register or to ‘follow’ them on WeChat or elsewhere before allowing contactless ordering.

This means that customers do not only give away some personal information stored in their app profile, it also means that it is easy for companies to keep on sending promotions and other information to their customers long after they have left their restaurants.

While this might be an efficient marketing strategy for businesses, many people see this as a major disadvantage to QR-based ordering, and this complaint is one of the most-discussed ones on Weibo.

“Contactless ordering is actually a good thing, it is the fact that you need to register or follow the company before you can place an order that’s the problem,” multiple commenters say.

“I just want to order food – why would you need my phone number for that? Why would I need to follow your account for that?”

Many commenters on Weibo indicate that if restaurants only offer QR code-based ordering, they would rather not eat there at all.

Despite the criticism on self-service ordering, it is also praised by many. The general consensus on Weibo seems to be that virtual ordering is great, but should not be the only way to order and that smartphones and tablets should never replace ‘old-fashioned’ menus and waiters.

By Manya Koetse

Featured image via http://dc.wio2o.com/new/diancan.php

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

Discussions on Didi After $1.2 Billion Fine for User-Data Violations

“Don’t even worry about rectifying, just go away,” some commenters wrote about Didi after learning the car-hailing company illegally and excessively collected user data.

Manya Koetse

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One of the topics trending on Chinese social media this week is Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi and the precarious situation the company is in. Online discussions are ongoing after the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) imposed a fine of 8.026 billion yuan [US$1.19 billion] on Didi Global on July 21 due to its alleged violation of at least three major laws, namely China’s Network Security Law, Data Security Law, and the Personal Information Protection Law.

Didi CEO Cheng Wei and President Liu Qing also each received a fine of one million yuan (US$148,000) personally as they were held responsible for the company’s violations.

Beijing launched a cybersecurity investigation into Didi on July 2nd of 2021, just days after the company’s June 30 US$4.4 billion initial public offering in New York. The investigation was launched “to protect national security and the public interest,” and also came at a time when Didi reportedly went against the CAC by pressing ahead with its New York stock listing despite allegedly being urged to wait until a cybersecurity review of its data practices was conducted. Shortly after, the CAC ordered domestic app stores to remove all of Didi’s services.

Now that the investigation into Didi is completed, the CAC states that there is conclusive evidence that Didi committed 16 law violations including illegally obtaining information from users’ smartphones – such as collecting information from users’ clipboards and photo albums – and “excessively” collecting personal data, including facial recognition and information relating to age, occupation, home/work addresses, and family relations (also see Zichen Wang’s write-up on this here).

Didi Chuxing, China’s biggest taxi-hailing service, has over 550 million users and 31 million drivers. Besides taxi-hailing, Didi also offers other app-based transportation services, such as private car-hailing and social ride-sharing.

It is not the first time for the company to be in hot water. In 2018, the murders of two young women by Didi drivers caused national outrage and sparked concerns over customers’ safety when hailing a car through the Didi company.

On Weibo, various hashtags relating to Didi went trending over the past week, such as “Didi fined 8.026 billion yuan” (#滴滴被处80.26亿元罚款#), “Didi excessively collected 107 million pieces of passengers’ facial recognition information” (#滴滴过度收集1.07亿条乘客人脸识别信息#), and “Cyberspace Administration of China imposes administrative penalty on Didi” (#网信办对滴滴作出行政处罚#).

Some Weibo users wonder why Didi is just receiving a fine rather than being immediately shut down over the serious violations they committed. “You still not shutting them down?” was a popular recurring comment. Although rumors surfaced over Didi’s car-sharing business going bankrupt, some expert bloggers claimed the company still would have enough financial power to go on after paying the fine.

The CAC has not provided details about the exact nature of the previously reported government’s “national security concerns” regarding Didi, but on Weibo, some netizens share their ideas on the matter: “Didi has a lot of people’s data. Just by hailing a car, they determine your cellphone number, your occupation, address, family member information, The U.S. could carry out targeted bribery or intimidation of some important people in China, as well as obtaining the geographic data Didi has, which would mean a heavy blow to China’s cyber security.” Another commenter wrote: “Didn’t they already sell this illegally obtained user information? Is it a threat to national security?”

Others worry about their own privacy, writing: “Do people still have privacy nowadays? We talk about one thing today, tomorrow we’ll be bombarded with advertisements for that very same thing.”

But others mentioned that the general consumer will keep using Didi when booking a taxi via app, simply because it’s still the major player in the market.

On Weibo, Didi responded to the administrative punishment via their official Weibo account, writing:

We sincerely thank the departments in charge for their inspection and guidance, and we thank the public for their criticism and supervision. We will draw a lesson from this, and will pay equal attention to the importance of security and development, and we will further strengthen the construction of our network security and data security, enhance the protection of personal information, effectively fulfill our social responsibility, serve all of our passengers, drivers, and partners, for the company’s safe, healthy, and sustainable development.”

“Don’t even worry about rectifying, just go away,” some commenters wrote.

Read more of our articles about Didi Chuxing here.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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China and Covid19

Beijing Communities Asking People to Wear Electronic Monitoring Wristband during Home Quarantine

“It’s almost like wearing electronic handcuffs. I don’t want to wear this,” one tech blogger wrote after being asked to wear a monitoring wristband during home quarantine.

Manya Koetse

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Social media posts from Beijing residents claiming that they were asked to wear electronic monitoring wristbands during home quarantine have prompted angry reactions on Weibo.

“Last week, I went on a work trip to Guangzhou and before I returned to Beijing I did the nucleic acid tests in time. I also reported my home isolation to authorities and received the antigen tests. In the middle of the night, I then received a notification from my community that they are giving me an electric bracelet to wear,” one Beijing resident writes on Weibo on July 14: “If they need to monitor my health, I’ll cooperate with temperature checks and nucleic acid tests at the door, but I cannot accept this so-called 24-hour electronic monitoring.”

Similar stories by Beijing residents returning back to the city after traveling have popped up on Chinese social media over the past few days. Tech blogger Dahongmao (@大红矛) – who has over 170,000 followers on Weibo – also shared their wristband experience, writing:

After returning to Beijing from a business trip, I reported to the community on my own initiative, and also volunteered to take the tests and stay in home isolation. Seeing that I could go out, a lady from the community called me and said that there was a new policy again and that all people in home quarantine must wear an electronic bracelet, and that it would be delivered to me that night. She explained that it is used to check the body temperature and that they could conveniently monitor body temperature data on the phone. I said that I had already strictly followed Beijing’s requirements in accordance with the anti-epidemic work. If this bracelet can connect to the internet, it definitely is also able to record my movements and it’s almost like wearing electronic handcuffs. I don’t want to wear this. If you want to know my temperature, just come to the door and check me, that’s fine, I’m also still clocking in to do antigen testing everyday. She said it’s a requirement from higher-up and that I shouldn’t make it difficult for her, I said I would not want to make it difficult for her but that she could tell those above her that I won’t wear it. If you insist that I wear it, you’ll have to come up with the documents that prove that it’s a Beijing government requirement and that this is not some unlicensed company trying to make a profit.

As more stories started surfacing about Beijing compounds asking residents to wear electronic bracelets during their home isolation, various hashtags related to the issue made their rounds on Chinese social media and photos taken by people wearing the bracelets also were posted online.

Photos of the wristband’s packaging show the electronic wristband is manufactured by Beijing Microsense Technology (北京微芯感知科技有限公司), a local Beijing company established in April of 2020 that is located in the city’s Haidian District.

These stories raised concerns online, especially because the wristband had not been announced as a policy by the city’s official health authorities.

“Resist the craziness,” one Weibo user wrote: “Our personal freedom is covertly being limited, and there’s people making a profit behind it.” “This is becoming more and more like one big prison,” one Zhejiang-based blogger wrote.

Tech blogger Dahongmao later updated their Weibo story about the bracelets, saying the community staff had come back to retrieve the electronic bracelets on Thursday afternoon because they had received “too many complaints.” News of the wristbands being recalled after too many complaints also became a hashtag on Weibo (#大量投诉质疑后社区回收电子手环#).

Chinese state media commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进), who is Beijing-based, also responded to the controversy, emphasizing that the bracelets had already been retrieved by community workers and that Beijing city would not force people to wear electronic wristbands during home quarantine. “I wonder if this adjustment was made due to the pressure of public opinion,” Hu wrote: “But even if it was, let us encourage this kind of respect shown in the face of public discontent and opposition.” He also made a video about the incident for his Hu Says series.

Earlier on Thursday, Hu had called some of the posts about the electronic wristbands “unfounded rumors” because people returning to Beijing from low-risk regions inside of China do not even need to isolate at home at all.

According to the official guidelines, individuals arriving (back) in Beijing must have a green health code and a negative nucleic acid test obtained within 48 hours. Only those individuals coming in from overseas must complete a 7-day centralized quarantine plus 3-day home isolation. Secondary contacts of confirmed cases will also be asked to do 7 days of home quarantine.

“Don’t say it’s just rumors,” one Weibo user wrote: “I’m wearing one [a wristband] right now. I had to, because my roommate returned from a trip.”

Blogger Dahongmao responded to Hu’s post about the wristband, saying: “Hu, if you are really concerned about this, then help to ask the relevant departments about these three questions. 1) Why doesn’t this consumer electronic product have the nationally required 3C certificate? 2) How come this anti-epidemic product doesn’t have medical device certification? 3) Without these two certificates, how did this [company] enter the purchasing list of the government for the Winter Olympics?”

As reported by Jiemian News, the same company that allegedly produced these wristbands also manufactured a smart wearable temperature measurement device called a “temperature band-aid,” which was used in the Olympic Village during the Beijing Winter Olympics.

On the late afternoon of July 14, the Beijing Municipal Health Commission responded to the online concerns about the electronic wristband, reportedly saying that home isolation is only necessary for people returning to Beijing from inside of China if they are coming from high-risk areas, and that there is no official policy in place regarding the need to wear electronic bracelets.

To read more about Covid-19 in China, check our articles here.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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