Cashier-free convenience store Bianlifeng eyeing 10,000 new stores on expansion spree

The convenience store is speeding up to prove its algorithm-driven operation model.

Photo: tuchong.stock.com

Chinese cashier-free convenience store startup Bianlifeng has opened over 1,000 cashier-free stores in China within the past 31 months, in cities such as Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Nanjing, and announced plans to open more than 10,000 stores in the next three years, according to the company.

Bianlifeng, which translates to “Convenient Bee,” uses mobile payments and a QR code-enabled point-of-sale system to offer cashier-free convenience stores, though there are still some staff in the store for manual duties like serving prepared foods, restocking items, and conducting cash payments, if necessary.

The company’s brick-and-mortar stores provide prepared foods, drinks, daily necessities, and other commodities. The firm also offers services such as grocery delivery, pick-up laundry, print, and bike-sharing through its app and a mini-program on WeChat, and has launched a smart vending machine unit for office buildings.

The firm claims to combine big data and its software and algorithm to adjust the stores’ goods selection, pricing, and display, while also optimizing the supply chain management and controlling the freshness of in-stock foods.

Founded in late 2016 by Zhuang Chengchao, who previously launched and sold Qunar, one of China’s largest travel services sites, the company has reportedly received USD 256 million from tech powerhouse Tencent and investment firm Hillhouse Capital, according to multiple Chinese news outlets.

Bianlifeng’s main investor is Zebra Global Capital, a Beijing-based private equity firm founded by the same Zhuang Chengchao, who poured USD 300 million into the convenience store brand at its early stage.

Earlier this year, Bianlifeng faced a controversy when some of its staffers complained on Maimai, a social-networking platform, about the company’s exposed practices of firing employers who failed at math and logic tests.

In response, Zhuang wrote in an internal email that mathematic logic is required every day in many small decisions at the convenience store, and therefore, workers with poor mathematical logic would find it hard to perform as expected.

Last year, the total revenue of the convenience store market in China reached roughly USD 32 billion, indicating a 19% year-on-year growth, and the number of stores rose 14% t0 120,000 by the end of 2018, China Chain Store & Franchise Association report revealed.

Japan’s famed convenience store operator 7-Elven entered this land in 1992 when it opened an outlet in Shenzhen, southern China. It currently owns over 2,800 outlets in mainland China, according to the company’s website.

Update: Data points about China’s convenience stores and 7-Eleven were added to this article.