Apps for young people revive an old business model
A woman in Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi province, takes photo of a glass bottle she subscribed via an app. [Photo/Xinhua]
Recently I've noticed that fresh flowers have been delivered to my house every week. One day they were red roses; another day they were white lilies and there were also times when I even couldn't tell their names.
When asked, our young ayi or domestic helper told me she had ordered all the flowers through a new app, just like the way she now buys clothes, groceries and lunches. To me, it seems our e-shopping experiences have been taken to the next level, from buying at the moment of need to ordering something regularly delivered to your door.
In the past couple of years, subscription flower apps have flourished, with weekly deliveries to customers over a period of one to six months. Our ayi's app, that charges 100 yuan ($14.38) to 800 yuan depending on the length of time and packaging, claims it has received more than 5.2 million orders from women members.
I buy flowers occasionally on weekends when I visit a farmer's market near my house that closes when I get home from work. For special occasions, I get them at a flower shop next to my workplace during my lunch break. The thought of buying flowers online has never occurred to me.
Perhaps I'm still a traditional customer who appreciates the opportunity to touch and feel an item at a store.
But my shopping behavior could change as time goes by, as I've started to accept meal boxes that my wife and ayi order from apps and are delivered to my house in plastic bags.
Yet, I'm still startled by the beginning of a subscription-based life that comes with new technologies. Mind you, flower lovers are only part of a new breed of online shoppers who have found it inconvenient to buy items online over and over again. New startups are quick to respond to the shift of consumer behavior:
Don't want to skip breakfast? Apps will deliver your plate of Chinese fried dough and soy bean milk or other treats to your office at 8 am. Tired of thinking where or what to eat for lunch? A daily call from a deliveryman downstairs to pick up your bento sounds like a godsend.
There is also an app that allows women to try new clothes from top brands for a couple of days, for 499 yuan a month.
For most of us, the convenience of online shopping probably still means browsing through multitudes of merchandise at fingertips and making a purchase on the cell phone or website when there is a demand. Last winter, I wrote about finding myself underdressed on my way to work and ordering a pair of cotton thermal pants online to be delivered before I went home.
For the lowest prices, we do thorough comparison shopping. As trust is still a big issue online, we'll read online reviews for quality control before we hit the "payment" button.
I'm also wary of the subscription model after shoppers complain that some e-retailers, like video sites, have tricked them into signing up for recurring credit card charges, through automatic renewals.
However, new subscription startups only target millennials, the digital natives who grew up with new technologies and are more at home with online shopping. They could be lazier than us in adopting a subscription e-commerce. But they are savvier with an e-life and know better how to navigate its common pitfalls.
Many startups have jumped on the bandwagon because a successful subscription-based model with a loyal young user base will improve cash flows, providing a reliable source of income for business operation and investment plans.
It's a business opportunity not to be missed and there is a lot to be learned about the new trendsetters.