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Hot Pot Paradise? This is China’s First 24/7 Digital Self-Service Hot Pot Supermarket

Chinese restaurant chain Wodi Hotpot (卧底火锅) is the new kid on the block in hot pot land. The start-up is China’s first digital self-service hot pot supermarket and restaurant. Combining China’s new digital trends with traditional tasty cuisine, Wodi is the typical post-1985 generation’s place to be.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese restaurant chain Wodi Hotpot (卧底火锅) is the new kid on the block in hot pot land. The start-up is China’s first digital self-service hot pot supermarket and restaurant. Combining China’s new digital trends with traditional tasty cuisine, Wodi is the typical post-1985 generation’s place to be. What’s on Weibo tried it out for you. [This is a premium content article.]

Hot pot cravings can come at any time. For those who want a tasty and affordable hot pot, whether it is in the wee hours of the morning or in the late hours of the night, there is a new popular Chinese 24-hour hot pot self-service supermarket & restaurant where digital is key.

It is not just its 24/7 opening hours and digital order-and-pay system that make this place special; their online-to-offline business model, supplier dynamics and revenue model all make Wodi Hot Pot (卧底火锅) a pioneering company in the wonderful world of Chinese hot pot.

WODI logo

‘Hot pot’ in Chinese is huǒguō (火锅), literally: ‘fire pot’. It has a history of over 1000 years, and it is generally agreed that the Chinese hotpot tradition must have come from Mongol warriors who camped outside and had dinner together circled around a pot on the fire. The idea is that while the hot pot brew is kept boiling, fresh ingredients are placed into the pot and are cooked at the table. Nowadays, hot pot tastes vary greatly across different regions in China, but what matters most is its enjoyment: sitting with friends and family around the boiling stew, sharing food, eating slowly, and talking.

The founder of Wodi, Qiu Xingxing (邱星星), once had the most delicious hotpots for 30 days straight in Chongqing and Sichuan. He then jokingly told his friend he would one day start his own hotpot restaurant. And it came true. The “digital self-service restaurant” Wodi Hot Pot first opened its doors to hot pot lovers in Beijing in January of 2016. The online platform of Wodi was established in October of 2015, with the offline supermarket/restaurant following a few months later.

Wodi’s Qiu Xingxing (see picture) is a post-1985 Chinese online entrepreneur who also co-founded the successful WOWO (55tuan.com), which is also known as ‘the Groupon of China’. Qiu is no stranger to e-commerce and its extreme potential; WOWO was the first Chinese company of its kind to be listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange in 2015.

qiiuxingxing

In a way, Wodi is a typical Chinese post-1980 or post-1985 generation outlet. The post-1980s is a generation that is known for still valuing tradition but also being creative and innovative and not afraid to try out new things.

Wodi is described as a “Hot Pot Online to Offline Platform” (火锅O2O平台) by Chinese media, as its online business lies at the core of the company. On Weibo, Wodi calls itself “the world’s biggest online hotpot platform” (全球最大的互联网火锅平台), through which customers are driven to visit their offline stores. Wodi is well-known for its online food delivery services. Although ordering in hot pot is popular and convenient, going to the actual Wodi “offline restaurant” (线下门店) for some hot shopping and dining is far more exciting.

“It’s fu*king cheap!”

Dining at this new hot pot chain is not just a nice experience, it is also surprisingly affordable. “It’s fu*king cheap!” allegedly is a catchphrase often used by Wodi’s young customers, founder Qiu Xingxing tells Ebrun magazine.

whatsonweibo wodiSo much to choose from in the Wodi Hotpot supermarket.

One of the main reasons the Wodi Hotpot supermarket is relatively inexpensive is because Qiu decided to drastically change the supplier/supermarket dynamics in the Wodi outlet. [blendlebutton] Instead of working with the typical distribution system, where supermarket owners purchase from food suppliers and then resell to customers at a (much) higher rate, Wodi lets suppliers directly sell their food to its consumers. Because there is no intermediary profit, the prices at Wodi are exceptionally low.

The supermarket has a wide selection of products, offering all kinds of hotpot ingredients, such as a variety of mushrooms, fish, tofu, thin-sliced beef, etc. Besides the classic hotpot ingredients, they also sell sodas, beer, candy and snacks, and even Wodi’s own hotpots to take home (32¥/±4,8US$), all priced at a much lower rate than other well-known hotpot places such as Haidilao (海底捞).

You’re probably wondering – if Wodi does not make much profit from the food it sells, then how do they make money? Enterpreneur Qiu has thought of a new business model for this to be able to provide customers with low-priced qualitative food while still having a profitable business.

“The world’s 2nd time-based hotpot restaurant.”

Wodi’s success formula lies in the original concept of the outlet, that has a supermarket area and a separate dining area. When you have purchased hotpot ingredients in the supermarket, you sit and eat in the Wodi restaurant at a hotpot table – which you rent for a time-based price.

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The time-based costs vary on the size of the table and if it is peak hour or not. For a 2-4 person table during quiet hours, customers pay 5¥ (±0.75$) per 15 minutes or 20¥ (±3$) per hour. During the peak hours (17.30-22.30) this is 32¥ (±4.8$) per hour. For larger groups up to 8 people, quiets hours are rated at 40¥ (±6$) and busy hours at 60¥ (±9$). Private rooms are also available for 60¥ (±9$) and 80¥ (±12$).

By working with rentable hotpot tables, Qiu is a pioneer in his field. If you walk into the Wodi venue, a slogan on the wall reads “the world’s 2nd time-based hotpot restaurant” (“全国第二家按用餐时长收费的火锅”). When a journalist from the 36kr.com business news site asked founder Qiu where the world’s 1st time-based hotpot was based, he told them: “There is none. It is just that China’s advertising laws don’t allow companies to use the term ‘the first’/’number one’ (‘第一’), so we turned it into ‘the second’. Actually, we’re the first.”

The first Wodi restaurant in Beijing’s Chaoyang is over 1000 square meter and offers 206 seatings, with maximum table turnover possibilities since the place is opened 24 hours. The Wodi restaurant became popular and packed right after its opening.

“You just need to bring your mobile phone.”

Stepping into the Wodi near the Worker’s Stadium in Beijing, visitors are immediately directed towards the supermarket that has baskets and trolleys for people to put their hotpot food on. The first stop is the touch-screen ordering system for the kind of hotpot you want, which is where one employer gives us a Wodi card that we need to swipe when ordering.

There are multiple types of hotpot stew to choose from – from extremely spicy to non-spicy, from a tomato-base stew to a garlic-based one, or better: have a half/half one so that you can combine two flavors. Most of the stews are priced around 30-35¥ (±4.5-5US$).

wodi entranceSupermarket entrance.

Wodi hotpot sauce

option menuCustomers can select and order their favorite hot pot stews through touch screens.

After the order for the hotpot stew is completed, the shopping can begin. The supermarket offers a variety of fresh foods – some great mushrooms and vegetables, soft and hard tofu kinds, noodles, intestines, fish heads, octopus, shrimps, and more. Meat can be ordered and cut at the center counter.

options

Wodi meatThe supermarket counter where an employee slices the meat for you.

Once you’ve collected all you want to eat (no worries, you can always hop back in and out to get more food and drinks), the food is scanned at the special Wodi check out counter, where again you swipe the card to “pay” for it.

wodi pay

Wodi register

wodi payoutWodi’s supermarket checkout system.

Wodi has a great selection of different hotpot sauces that are all free. The most common one in Beijing is the plain majiang (sesame paste) dipping sauce, but there are many other options available at Wodi including ways to make your hotpot sauce more exciting by adding cilantro, garlic, chili, etc.

wodi 2 sauces whatsonweibo

wodi sauces whatsonweibo

Once at the table, your ordered hotpot is prepared by the Wodi staff and hot potting can start. Except for the hot pot placement, Wodi is completely self-service as there are no employees who will serve you drinks or food. You will have to step back into the supermarket to get your own stuff, and cook your own food in the pot.

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Wodi does all it can to make their customers as comfortable as possible to make them stay longer at the rented table. Tables have outlets to recharge mobile phones, there is free wifi, hair bands to keep the hair out of your face, and aprons to protect clothes from hotpot stains. In the meantime, the time for the table is counted by every 15 minutes you use it.

When food is finished and the bellies are full, it is time to pay. In a digital-focused store like Wodi, WeChat pay is the way to go, although there are other payment options available. As long as you have WeChat credit, “you just need to bring your mobile phone”, as my fellow hotpotters say, and you’re done. You give employees the Wodi card which you used for the supermarket and the table-time costs are added to it. For three persons spending multiple hours at Wodi eating and drinking, we spent a total of 240¥ (36US$)

wodi whatsonweibo finished

For the true hotpot connoisseurs, Wodi might not be your hotpot heaven for its tastes are classic but not as refined as renowned hot pot restaurants in China. But for its price, quality, cleanliness, comfort, and above all, its no-nonsense, self-service, digital approach, Wodi is the place to go.

According to its founder, this is still the “1.0 phase” of Wodi, with the future “2.0 Wodi” offering customers more digital options and services. Keep an eye on this one – it might just be the hot pot paradise China’s digital-loving hot pot foodies have been waiting for.

– By Manya Koetse

Wodi Hotpot Address:

Beijing, Chaoyang,
East Gongti Road 工体东路20号春平广场
1st Floor Chunping Plaza

Branch in Beijing, Wangjing
悠乐汇C座3楼359室
Youlehui C/Building 3, 359

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

WeChat’s New Emoji Are Here (Including a Watermelon-Eating and Doge One)

WeChat’s new emoji are based on popular memes.

Manya Koetse

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On January 14, Tencent’s Wechat introduced new emoji to its existing emoji set. The new emoji include, among others, a watermelon-eating emoji and a smiling Shiba Inu.

On Weibo, the new emoji have become a topic of discussion under the hashtags “WeChat’s New Emoji” (#微信上线新表情#), “WeChat’s Watermelon Eating Emoji” (#微信上线吃瓜表情#), and “WeChat’s Dog Emoji” (#微信上线狗头表情#).

Different from the Unicode emoji (see Emojipedia), WeChat and Weibo have their own sets of emoji, although there is overlap.

The reason why especially the watermelon-eating and dog emoji are being discussed on social media, is because these emoji are based on popular internet memes.

“Eating watermelon” (吃瓜 chī guā) is an online expression that comes from “watermelon-eating masses” (吃瓜群众 chī guā qúnzhòng), which describes a common mentality of Internet users who have no idea what is actually going on but are still commenting or following online stories for their enjoyment – perhaps comparable to the “popcorn memes” that are ubiquitous on Western social media platforms.

The smiling dog has been around since 2013 and is known as the doge meme, based on a photo of a Shiba inu. The meme was originally spread on social media platforms such as Reddit, but then also became hugely popular in China, where it became a symbol of sarcasm (also read this Abacus article on this topic).

Other new emoji are the “wow” emoji, and others to express “ok,” “add oil,” “emm,” “oh!”

There’s also a “shehui shehui” (社会社会, lit. “society society”) emoji, which also comes from online culture and is a way among friends to (self-mockingly) talk about being ‘gangsters,’ ‘brothers.’ or ‘scoundrels.’

As the new emoji are still in their testing phase, not all WeChat users can use the new emoji yet, so you might have to wait a bit before being able to try them out.

By Manya Koetse, with thanks to @caaatchina
Follow @whatsonweibo

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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‘Good Doctor’, Digital Hospitals: How Mobile Apps Are Alleviating China’s Healthcare Problems

With the rapid digitalization of China’s healthcare, Chinese patients now have more ways than one to receive medical assistance.

Manya Koetse

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China’s healthcare industry is facing some serious challenges. As Chinese society is rapidly digitalizing, mobile apps now provide innovative solutions to alleviate pressing problems in the country’s health services sector.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “Good-Doctor Apps und Digitale Krankenhäuser.” 
 

Social Credit System, artificial intelligence, surveillance cameras; these are some of the hottest topics making headlines in mainstream Western media when discussing China-related developments recently.

With the rapid digitalization of Chinese society, these topics certainly have come to play a more important role in social media discussions within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). But if there is one issue that seems to concern Chinese social media users the most, it is not facial recognition nor their ‘Sesame score’: it is the topic of healthcare.

In December of 2017, a photo showing a crying mother kneeling down beside a toddler on the sidewalk in front of a Shanghai hospital went viral overnight. The moment was captured on camera by a reporter who was visiting Shanghai’s Children’s Hospital.

The photo of Guo Yinzhen and her son that went viral in China (image via NetEase, source: https://3g.163.com).

The mother, Guo Yinzhen, is a single parent who had traveled from a remote village to seek medical help for her 3-old-son, who was suffering from congenital hydrocephalus or ‘water on the brain.’ Already having traveled to the city multiple times and spending all her money on medical bills, Guo could not afford the additional 100.000 yuan (€ 12.600) for medical procedures needed to save her son’s life.

Guo’s story struck a chord with Chinese netizens, who continue to share the heartbreaking photo on social media to this day. It has become emblematic of China’s healthcare problems.

 

Crowded Hospitals and ‘Healthcare Disturbance’

 

The key to an adequate healthcare system, no matter where in the world, is that there is a right balancing in the “iron triangle” of efficiency/cost containment, high quality care, and patient access.[1] China, however, struggles with all three sides of this triangle.

Guo’s case is an extreme example, but many people in China dealing with less serious health issues and needing basic medical services also struggle to afford and access the healthcare they need.

Over 95% of people in China have health insurance, but people from different regions do not enjoy the same benefits and their out-of-pocket expenses can vary greatly. Uncovered medical costs can sometimes be catastrophic and simply unaffordable for patients and their families.

As more money flows are going to healthcare facilities in China’s cities, there is also the issue of varying levels of providers’ medical education and the overall healthcare quality, with the substantial majority of modern hospitals still existing in urban areas.

Easy access to the right kind of healthcare can be especially problematic for China’s rural population, as people often need to travel long distances and have to go through the lengthy process of registering and waiting for their doctor’s appointment, which sometimes requires them to stay in the city overnight.

For all of these reasons, China’s bigger public hospitals can get super crowded, sometimes resembling shopping malls on an end-of-season sales day. On social media, both patients and medical workers often complain about the stress brought about by the huge crowds and the shortage of doctors in hospitals across the country.

Perhaps it is no wonder that China even has a word to describe outbursts of violence between patients and doctors: ‘Yī nào’ (医闹, literally: “healthcare disturbance”).

Weibo user ‘Sunscreen’ complains about the crowds at Huashan Hospital.

One major problem within China’s healthcare conundrum is the lack of local family or primary-care doctors, which often makes bigger hospitals the first stop to any kind of medical treatment for Chinese patients.

The reasons for this issue are manifold. There is a general lack of trust in private and smaller local healthcare clinics, for example, and patients often choose to go directly to a bigger hospital to avoid making extra costs.

This makes it extra difficult for many community health care centers – that are already struggling – to make enough money and to retain qualified staff. In a society that is rapidly aging, the challenges facing China’s healthcare industry are only becoming more pressing.

 

A Doctor Today, Just an App Away

 

As China’s online environment is thriving, new innovative online apps are popping up on a daily basis. Some of these apps, that have found their ways into China’s most popular app rankings, are offering solutions to some of the country’s most pressing healthcare problems.

One of these apps is Ping’an Good Doctor (平安好医生), which was developed by health insurance provider Ping’an in 2015 and calls itself China’s “one-stop healthcare ecosystem.”

“Ping’an Good Doctor” promotional image by Ping’an.

Employing some 1000 medical staff in its in-house team, contracting over 5,200 external doctors, and collaborating with 3000 hospitals and thousands of pharmacy outlets across the country, the app is somewhat of an “online hospital.”

Through the app, users can look through an online database of medical professionals, order medicine at nearby pharmacies, get 24/7 online medical consultancy, search for information about both Western and Chinese Traditional Medicine, etc., but they can also use Ping’an Good Doctor as a fitness app to track their own health.

Screenshot of Ping’an app screen, by author.

When looking for a specific doctor for a one-on-one consult, the app first lets users select an area of expertise (e.g. dermatology or gynecology), and then offers a list of different specialists in various price categories.

Doctors from well-known hospitals, for example, or those with excellent ratings, have a one-time consultation fee of 100 yuan (€ 12,60). Other doctors can be consulted starting from 30 yuan (€3,70). All costs can be paid efficiently via online payment apps.

Doctors to pick from within the app’s various price categories.

Ping’an Good Doctor uses an AI-driven system to ask patients various questions about their symptoms and to automatically create a user’s medical record to save time. Based on the AI-generated record and the conversation with the patients – files such as photos can also be uploaded to the app -, the doctors can prescribe medicine or refer the patient to a hospital for an offline appointment if needed.

Ping’an recently announced that its number of registered users exceeded 300 million users, with 62 million monthly active users. Because the app keeps building on its AI-driven system, Ping’an Good Doctor can be expected to only become a ‘smarter’ smart health app the more popular it gets.

Although Ping’an is now leading within China’s medical app category, there are many other apps providing similar services, such as Chunyu Yisheng (春雨医生), Haodafu Online (好大夫在线), or DingXiang Doctor (丁香医生).

The emergence of these apps is just one of the many ways in which China’s digital developments, online media, and tech giants are impacting the healthcare industry, profoundly changing how patients receive healthcare information and access medical services now and in the future.

List of recommended medical apps in the Tencent app store.

In a way, China’s medical consultation apps fill the void in offline primary care. Patients who would otherwise turn to hospital care as their first stop can now  access medical consultations any time, any day, at a relatively low cost. Those who suffer from relatively harmless conditions could be diagnosed by a medical specialist via the app and get the medicine they need within a matter of minutes. With the growing popularity of these kinds of apps, many patients no longer need to visit a hospital at all.

Are smart health apps such as Ping’an Good Doctor the solution to China’s healthcare problems? No, they’re not. Struggling mums like Guo Yinzhen will not find the help they need there. But they do contribute to a more efficient healthcare environment where crowd flows in hospitals can be reduced, and patients do not need to spend a lot of time and money to stand in hour-long queues to get five minutes of their doctor’s time.

Although smart health apps could not help Guo Yinzhen and her son, social media apps could. As soon as their story went viral in late 2017, Shanghai Children’s Welfare Foundation Xiaoxingxin offered to cover medical treatments for the little boy, with a notable pediatric neurosurgeon operating the child. According to the latest updates, the boy’s situation was “looking good.”

Hopefully, the same holds true for the challenging sides of China’s healthcare industry.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

[1] Burns & Liu, 2017: 3-4.

References/Linked Sources

Burns, Lawton Robert, and Gordon G. Liu. 2017. “Introduction.” In China’s Healthcare Industry: A System Perspective, Lawton Robert Burns and Gordon G. Liu (eds), pp-1-116. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Economist, 2017. “China needs many more primary-care doctors.” The Economist, May 11 https://www.economist.com/china/2017/05/11/china-needs-many-more-primary-care-doctors [20.10.19].

Zhou, Viola. 2018. “Does China Have Universal Healthcare? A Long (And Better) Answer.” Inkstone, Oct 10 https://www.inkstonenews.com/health/china-translated-does-china-have-universal-health-care/article/2167579

This text was first published by Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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