Secrets of wanghong stores

By Ma Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/11 17:03:40

Popular food and drink brands use ‘cappers’ as fake consumers to lure more people in

Many customers wait in line outside the Heytea store in Sanlitun, Beijing on Saturday. Photo: Ma Jingjing/GT

In recent days, reports about wanghong stores - stores that are popular on the Internet - hiring cappers to create a busy customer atmosphere have gone viral. Domestic entrepreneurship services provider reported in June that Heytea milk tea hired actors to queue up in front of the stores to pretend to be customers. To dig out the secrets of such a promotional method, the Global Times visited some popular stores and interviewed extra actor service providers over the weekend.

Long queues are frequently seen in front of popular stores like Heytea and A Little Tea, but hiring cappers has been disclosed as the hidden cause.

"Why do you buy only one cup of Heytea milk tea after waiting in line for two hours? It's a waste of time!" a 20-something woman consumer said with a surprising look.

The consumer bought three cups of milk tea, which is the purchase cap, and took selfies with the purchases before leaving.

"I purposely get up early to buy Heytea milk tea for my friends who helped us move home today," the consumer who prefers to be unnamed told the Global Times.

"The famous store is always packed with consumers. On its opening day in Sanlitun, I was told to wait for more than three hours to get a cup. The whole scene is just like Beijing South Railway Station where there are always mountains of people," she described.

Recently, long queues in front of wanghong stores - stores that are popular on the Internet - have become a phenomenon in many Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

The wanghong store Heytea in Sanlitun, Beijing's Chaoyang district, has been attracting crowds of rushing people since it opened on August 12.

Beijing-based entrepreneurship services provider reported in June that Heytea hired more than 300 cappers for its opening day.

Although the Heytea store's opening time is 10 in the morning, people already start to queue up in front of the store as early as 8.30, even on a Sunday morning.

As of 10 am on an average day, there are dozens of consumers, most of whom are young.

Several middle-aged men, however, can also be easily spotted in the queue, but they turned out to be daigou - purchasing agents - of such popular items.

As these stores have become more famous, there has been no need for cappers to act in front of customers anymore, but long queues have initiated the emergence of daigou, said a daigou who called himself Heran while standing at the very front of the queue.

He told the Global Times that he gets up early every day and comes to Sanlitun to buy Heytea milk tea for consumers who are reluctant to spend time waiting.

"No matter how many cups of Heytea you want, I can buy them if you place an order two and a half hours in advance. I have about 10 partners in the line. The fee is 50 yuan ($7.72) for one visit and can buy you up to three cups," he said. He had already received five orders by 9 am on Sunday.

Mystery behind long queues

Given the science of queue psychology, many stores hire cappers to create a busy atmosphere to attract consumers, a manager of a part-time recruitment platform surnamed Wang told the Global Times on Saturday.

Wang set up a QQ group chat in November 2014 to hire part-time workers who would act as extras, including in meetings and commercial performances, and to provide promotion services for new stores. The group chat now has nearly 1,000 members.

He said his team has helped several stores in Beijing establish their brands, including crayfish restaurants like Guijie Zaizai and Huda Restaurant. Guijie is a famous Beijing street where restaurants represent around 90 percent of all the stores there.

"My company cooperated with Guijie Zaizai for three years from 2013. The restaurant hired up to 300 cappers sometimes, with a salary of 70 yuan per person for two hours from 7 pm to 9 pm," Wang said.

This promotion method works well for Guijie, Wang said. "Actually, many people visit Guijie every day, but they have no idea which restaurants are really the best. Under this circumstance, they tend to patronize stores where countless numbers of people are waiting in lines because consumers tend to believe that the dishes must be good enough to attract so many people," he explained.

A businesswoman from Taiwan who has experienced several entrepreneurship failures also referred to Wang for help when she decided to open up a handmade bread store in Beijing's tech hub Zhongguancun.

"The promotion program lasted about three months. We hired about 20 young people, with a salary of 160 yuan per person each day. Half of the part-time workers gave out leaflets, while the other half pretended to be customers that chose bread at the store," Wang said.

He refused to give the name of the store, but said it has been very popular in Beijing and has opened eight branches.

In addition, wanghong stores tend to use hunger marketing. For example, Heytea enforces the rule that one individual can only buy three cups of milk tea, and A Little Tea caps at 11 cups.

A common trick

Business halls of telecom carriers and commercial banks also hire cappers, but, different from food and drink stores, they hire these people to register phone cards and credit cards in a bid to achieve performance goals.

A Global Times reporter recently joined several QQ group chats that are abundant with such recruitment needs. On Saturday afternoon, the reporter, in disguise as a capper, came to a business hall of one of the three telecom giants in Beijing's Fengtai district.

A shop assistant received and registered two phone cards using the reporter's ID card.

The whole process took around 20 minutes and the reporter was instantly paid 80 yuan.

This trick is common in telecom circles, and the business halls of two other carriers also do so to achieve sales targets, the assistant said.

"This is also a good way for people to make quick money," a team leader of a group of cappers surnamed Zhang told the Global Times, noting that a large proportion of such part-time workers are college students.

Difficulty in evidence collection

Despite the widespread fabricated competition among these market entities, administrative penalties or punishments are seldom carried out due to difficulties underlying the evidence collection process, an expert said.

Hiring cappers, just like click farms on online stores, is unfair competition, Zhao Zhanling, a legal counselor at the Internet Society of China, told the Global Times on Sunday.

But it's hard to obtain evidence, resulting in the rampancy of such kinds of promotional activities in some sectors, he said.

The domestic law Administrative Measures for Online Trading explicitly prohibits click farms.

In fact, industrial and commercial departments once investigated click farm cases, but there are no direct regulations concerning the hiring of cappers yet, Zhao said, noting currently it can only be deemed as violating integrity principles and business ethics.

But he said that through such moves, some wanghong stores can only achieve instant benefits in the short term, "Whether their goods will actually win recognition [in the long term] relies on their quality and services."

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