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Ofo’s Bike Sharing Services Spark Outrage on Chinese Social Media for “Giving Privileges to Foreigners”

Apparently, all it takes is to be an American to get your deposit back from Ofo?

Gabi Verberg

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When one man dreaded waiting forever on the phone with Ofo’s customer service to get a deposit back, he decided the “foreigner reporting strategy,” and it allegedly worked. It is a story that is now going viral on Chinese social media, where netizens are outraged about the company’s “unfair treatment” of customers.

When one Chinese Ofo customer decided he did not feel like waiting forever on the phone to get his deposit of 199 yuan back, he decided to go “foreign.” Changing his account details, he pretended to be a man from California living in China for the past three years and sent an email to Ofo in English, Tencent News and other Chinese media report. Not only did he immediately get his deposit back, the company even sent him an apology letter.

For over a year now, the Ofo bike sharing service company is facing financial troubles which have forced the company to lay off workers and have made it extra difficult for Ofo users to get a refund of their 199 yuan ($29) deposit.

As reported by Technode earlier this month, amidst recent reports on Ofo’s alleged nearing bankruptcy and rumors of an acquisition by ride-hailing giant Didi, users have rushed to get their deposits back.

In the CCTV2 Economic News (经济信息联播) programme on December 3rd, Ofo users told reporters that the company’s app now only has a “top up” credit button in its settings, and that the button for “getting a refund of deposit” had been removed. When people tried calling the service center of the company, many got no response, despite numerous attempts.

Ofo was founded in 2014 and first launched its services in Beijing in 2015. Ofo bikes can now be found in many cities across China, where users first pay a deposit and can then unlock and track bikes, which can be rented for one yuan by the hour, using the smartphone app.

Now, the news has gone viral of the Chinese man who not only got his deposit refunded, but even received an apology letter from Ofo. All it allegedly took for him to succeed is pretending to be a foreigner.

When the Chinese man, who goes by the username “@ztj93,” had heard that he had to go through much trouble to get his deposit back, he pretended to be an American and used Gmail to write an email to Ofo in English, of which he took a screenshot and reposted it on his Weibo account. Within a day, the money was sent back to his Alipay-account, and a letter of apology was sent to his email.

The email from “ztj93” sent to Ofo on the 13th of December, at 3:51 pm, as shared on social media:

Ofo’s reply on the 14th of December, at 10:03 am:

When the man shared his success online, news went viral immediately.

At the time of writing, the hashtag “Pretend to be foreign and Ofo refunds immediately” (#假装外国人ofo秒退押金#) has received over 140 million views on Weibo.

Many netizens praise the man for his clever approach and congratulate him with his success, while also condemning the Ofo company for their “unfair treatment” of customers, with some even expressing their hopes for the company to go bankrupt as soon as possible.

By now, the original poster has placed a letter on his Weibo account in which he expresses his surprise with the fact that Ofo actually responded to him and that he got his money back, but also with the fact that the news has blown up on Weibo as it has. The man also explains that he is a long-time user of Weibo and that he since long has used the international Weibo version (it not clear at time of writing where the man exactly adjusted his profile details and if it was on Ofo or on Weibo).

He writes that although initially, it was just funny to him, he now has mixed feelings about the entire incident; on the one hand, he is happy that he has his money back, he writes, but on the other hand, he says that it makes him “uncomfortable” knowing that Ofo might give a preferential treatment to foreigners.

While he understands people’s anger about this, he writes, he also says that this anger should stay within “reasonable realms,” which it, apparently, has not. The poster has since deleted his Ofo posts, saying he knew the power of Weibo, but that he did not expect his post to be so influential.

On Saturday night (China time), Chinese media outlet Pear Video published a video on the issue in which two spokespersons for Ofo state they do not know about the incident and will look into it. Later, the phone for Ofo’s PR services was allegedly not able to be reached again.

By Gabi Verberg and Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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China Brands & Marketing

The Price is Not Right: Corn Controversy Takes over Chinese Social Media

It’s corn! The “6 yuan corn” debate just keeps going.

Manya Koetse

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Recently there have been fierce discussions on Chinese social media about the price of corn after e-commerce platform Oriental Selection (东方甄选) started selling ears of corn for 6 yuan ($0.80) per piece.

The controversy caught the public’s attention when the famous Kuaishou livestreamer Simba (辛巴, real name Xin Youzhi), who has labeled himself as a ‘farmer’s son,’ criticized Oriental Selection for their corn prices.

Founded in 2021, Oriental Selection is an agricultural products e-commerce platform under New Oriental Online. In its company mission statement, Oriental Selection says its intention is to “help farmers” by providing the channels to sell their high-quality agricultural goods to online consumers.

Simba suggested that Oriental Selection was being deceitful by promising to help farmers while selling their corn for a relatively high price. According to Simba, they were just scamming ordinary people by selling an ear of corn that is worth 0.70 yuan ($0.10) for 6 yuan ($0.80), and also not really helping the farmers while taking 40% of their profits.

‘Sales king’ Xin Youzhi, aka Simba, was the one who started the current corn controversy.

During one of the following livestreams, Oriental Selection’s host Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) – who also happens to be a farmer’s son – responded to the remarks and said there was a valid reason for their corn to be priced “on the high side.” Simba was talking about corn in general, including the kind being fed to animals, while this is high-quality corn that is already worth 2 yuan ($0.30) the moment it is harvested.

Despite the explanation, the issue only triggered more discussions on the right price for corn and about the fuzzy structure of the agricultural e-commerce livestreaming business.

Is it really too expensive to sell corn for 6 yuan via livestreaming?

The corn supplier, the Chinese ‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂), is actually selling their own product for 3.6 yuan ($0.50) – is that an honest price? What amount of that price actually goes to the farmers themselves?

‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂).

One person responding to this issue via her Tiktok channel is the young farmer Liu Meina (刘美娜), who explained that Simba’s suggested “0.70 yuan per corn” was simply unrealistic, saying since it does not take the entire production process into account, including maintenance, packaging, transportation, and delivery.

Another factor mentioned by netizens is the entertainment value added to e-commerce by livestreaming channels. Earlier this year, Oriental Selection’s host Dong Yuhui and his colleagues became an online hit for adding an educational component to their livestreaming sessions.

These hosts were actually previously teachers at New Oriental. Facing a crackdown on China’s after-school tutoring, the company ventured into different business industries and let these former teachers go online to sell anything from peaches to shrimp via livestreaming, teaching some English while doing so (read more here). So this additional value of livestream hosts entertaining and educating their viewers should also be taken into account when debating the price of corn. Some call it “Dong Yuhui Premium” (“董宇辉溢价”).

Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) is one of the livestreamers that have turned New Oriental’s e-commerce into a viral hit.

In light of all the online discussions and controversy, netizens discovered that Oriental Selection is currently no longer selling corn (#东方甄选回应下架玉米#), which also became a trending topic on Weibo on September 29.

But the corn controversy does not end here. On September 28, Chinese netizens discovered that corn by the ‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂) was being sold for no less than 8.5 yuan ($1.2) at the Pangdonglai supermarket chain (胖东来), going well beyond the price of Oriental Selection.

Trying to avoid a marketing crisis, the Pangdonglai chain quickly recalled its corn, stating there had been an issue with the supply price that led to its final store price becoming too high. That topic received over 160 million views on Weibo on Friday (#胖东来召回8.5元玉米#).

Behind all these online discussions are consumer frustrations about an untransparent market where the field of agricultural products has become more crowded and with more people taking a share, including retailers, e-commerce platforms, and livestreaming apps. Moreover, they often say they are “helping farmers” while they are actually just making money themselves.

One Weibo user commented: “Currently, ‘helping farmers’ is completely different from the original intention of ‘helping farmers.’ Right now, it’s not about helping farmers anymore, but about helping the companies who have made agricultural products their business.”

“I bought a corn at a street shop today for 4 yuan ($0.55),” one Weibo blogger wrote: “It was big, sweet, and juicy, the quality was good and it was tasty – and people are still making money off of it. So yes, 6 yuan for a corn is certainly too expensive.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China Brands & Marketing

How Made-in-China ‘Magical’ Winter Essentials Are Keeping Europeans Warm Amid Energy Crisis

Chinese manufacturers of heating equipment are the “invisible champions” of Europe’s energy crisis.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese companies are profiting from Europe’s energy crisis. Made-in-China electric blankets, electric kettles, sleeping bags, and hot water bottles are flying off the shelves and Chinese factories are working around the clock to meet the demand of European consumers.

“Chinese Electric Blankets Are the Magic Weapon Keeping Europeans Warm This Winter” (#中国电热毯成欧洲人今冬御寒神器#) and “Explosive Sales of Chinese Electric Blankets to Europeans” (#欧洲人买爆中国电热毯#) are among the popular hashtags discussed on Chinese social media this week in light of Europe’s ongoing energy crisis.

Chinese companies are seeing booming sales of winter essentials recently. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe is dealing with an energy crisis. Households and businesses across Europe are feeling the pinch: the shortage of natural gas has led to sky-high prices for heating and electricity. The explosions and subsequent gas leaks that occurred on the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines on September 26 have only made prospects bleaker.

Looking for creative ways to stay warm and reduce energy bills, made-in-China products are in high demand among European consumers, and Chinese factories are scaling up their production to meet the growing demand.

According to Toutiao News, some manufacturers in Dongguan are seeing the highest sales numbers in half a decade; sales volumes have tripled compared to the same period last year. This requires the factory workers to work in shifts of three so the production can continue around the clock.

Electric blankets are especially popular as they are relatively affordable and more cost-effective as they require less electricity to run compared to electric heaters. Chinese electric blankets are generally cheaper than local options.

Chinese media describe Chinese electric blankets as the ‘magical weapons to defend against the cold’ (“御寒神器”).

The word shénqì (神器), meaning ‘magical tool’ or ‘magical weapon’, is often used to refer to products or objects that provide a simple or smart solution to a pressing problem, such as these paint buckets that became a viral hit during Spring festival travel season; this ‘magical’ device to prevent grannies from dancing underneath your window; or this gadget to take revenge on a noisy neighbor.

 

“Now there’s even a joke saying the Yiwu electric blanket sellers are the ones who sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines.”

 

Besides electric blankets, other made-in-China ‘magical weapons’ that have become popular amongst European consumers include electric kettles, wearable sleeping bags, thermal underwear, and hot water bottles.

Electronic knee warmer.

As this topic of Chinese winter products “taking over Europe” recently became a hot topic on Chinese social media, some people commented on how the prices for these products were much higher in Europe than in China.

In Europe, a simple rubber hot water bottle is usually sold for around ten euros ($10) while the exact same products are sold for around five to ten yuan ($0.70-$1.5) in China.

In this way, the European energy crisis turns out to be a lucrative one for Chinese businesses. Some bigger companies also manufacturing electric blankets saw their stock prices rise.

One joke circulating on Chinese social media suggests that Chinese electric blanket sellers from manufacturing cities such as Yiwu are the ones who sabotaged the North Stream pipes.

“I never expected China to get part of the profits,” one popular comment said, with the following comment saying: “Thanks to the silly Europeans for making a contribution to our economy!”

“I heard they’re even looking [to buy] our Chinese birthday candles, they’ve gone mad,” one Weibo user wrote, while others jokingly wrote: “We’re the real winners.”

In light of the run on electric blankets, Chinese netizens also came up with some alternative suggestions to stay warm.

“It would be better if they’d wear long underwear pants,” one commenter suggests, while others say that people could just “make love to generate electricity.”

“Use a hot-water bottle and drink lots of hot water,” some write, while others recommend European consumers to buy more hand warmers.

Hand warmer sold on Taobao for 128 yuan ($18).

“I suggest them to buy our Xinjiang cotton quilts, they are sustainable and you can save on energy,” one Weibo user wrote in reference to last year’s Xinjiang cotton boycott.

One Weibo user drew their own conclusion in light of the current developments: “I think we could safely say that the world can do without Russians, but we’ll always need China.”

By Manya Koetse with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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

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