Blog1: Representation: Before the Internet
Ele.me — one of the Chinese biggest takeaway platforms
According to the 48th Statistical Reports on Internet Development in China released by CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center) on August 27th, by the end of June this year, the number of online takeaway users in China was over 469 million, which has increased by 49.76 million since December 2020, accounting for 33% of the country’s population. What makes online takeaway service so popular in China? I would like to reveal a little part of the reason, by focusing on its representation.
Let’s start with assuming it’s 2010, (which is not quite long ago, surprisingly), while you just came back from work, too tired to cook yourself nor go to a restaurant. You think of takeaway — to order some food remotely and have it delivered to your home by someone. How? By making a phone call. (actually a lot of people are still doing that way) You will be looking for some cards from the restaurants you’ve been before, or pulling out a flier of the new pizzeria nearby —- you’re not sure whether it’s good or not, but you decide to give it a try. You type in and call the phone number on the flier, however, there comes a voice with very strong accent. He must be an Italian then, you think. So you just ask him for a recommend menu. You believe you hear something like “Pizza Gamberetti Regular”.
After one or maybe two hours, your pizza finally arrived. You are too hungry to look at it carefully before the first bite. Then you find out that Italian chef’s recommend is actually “Gamberetti Rucola”, while you HATE rucola.
This is just a little scenario —- my wretched conjecture about how people ordered takeaway Before the Internet, Before Ele.me.
Let this short video introduce to you the basic functions of this app.
This is the core principle of Ele.me, founded in 2008, one of the two biggest take-out online platforms in China. (Another is Meituan, which formed a kind of dominant oligopoly market together with Ele.me. I wish I can talk more in the final project about the formation of this oligopoly and the huge influence their competition has brought to the whole industry from different aspects.)
Simply speaking, consumers feel so attached to it because of its following features:
- Quick access to all kinds of restaurants nearby. No need to make a phone call. Online menus and images available.
- Overall tracking. You can always check the real time location of your rider (food deliverer) on app.
- Comments and pictures from other consumers on every dish.
- Customized recommendation. Arranged presenting order according to your taste by analyzing your former order records.
- Super fast and cheap delivery.
- Instant online payment with Alipay.
- Cost-effective foods.
As you can see, Ele.me could avoid most of the troubles and embarrassments in the story at the beginning. Takeaway has become the first choice of more and more people (especially the young) living in busy cities, replacing cooking or dining out, which is much more time or money-consuming. You can buy a pretty good lunch within 40 rmb, equals to 6.3 dollars. There are even meals less than 3.5 dollars, but still tasty and filling.
Fast, convenient, and economical.
Because of these representations among customers, in only ten years, online takeaway industry has completed the transition from low-end incremental market to mid/high-end quality market. (also thanks to the ferocious capital competition at the early stage, which largely expanded the market size)
Today, people no longer view takeaway only as a quick and cheap way to fill their stomach. In big metropolises, you can also order high-quality, and even luxurious meals on Ele.me, and it probably tastes better than that from some restaurants you randomly pick when walking around the street.’
The popularity of online food consumption mode has even influenced the way people order in dine-in restaurants, digitizing the whole catering industry around the nation.
“The previous text-only paper menus didn’t do justice to their signature dishes, which had creative names such as ‘1-Meter Beef’ or ‘A Cow.’ They were often overlooked by customers.”
Now, by simply scanning a QR code, “Each dish has its own image, so customers can see what they are and their portion size. They can order without needing staff to explain in person.”Ge Tianqi, an owner of a hot pot restaurant in Hangzhou
Dark side of progress — the Reverse
Nevertheless, online ordering pattern has made price discrimination feasible, in a very tricky way though. By analyzing your consumption level, the platform will prioritize restaurants with different pricing level. They usually present you with relatively expensive restaurants if the records show that you’re pretty rich, so that the platform can share better bonus, but they can just call it “customization”.