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Staying open late, Call a Duck is selling 200 ducks a day at $23 apiece.
“Zhai” means house in Chinese, and young adults in China today are often called the “zhai” generation because so many of them stay at home, communicating with friends mainly by social media. A start-up online restaurant in Beijing is catering to that generation, and relying on popular social networks to drum up business.
The restaurant, Call a Duck, began operating in May, and is averaging sales of 200 ducks a day, at $23 a meal. The e-retailer takes orders until 3 a.m., whereas most restaurants in China close around 10 p.m., filling an unmet need for late-night take-out food.
Word is getting around online, and the online-only restaurant now has 4,000 followers on Weibo, a social network much like Twitter. That’s part of the strategy of the founders, who previously worked at Baidu and Sina, two big Internet companies in China.
The duck is also different from traditional Peking Duck, dispensing with the pancake and sauce that’s part of the ritual of eating the famous Beijing specialty. “The roasted duck recipe is innovative. Consumers can eat it directly without bothering with the traditional sauce and flat cake,” Call a Duck operations director Tang Ke tells Internet Retailer. “Our luxury-like designer bags and reusable dinner box give consumers a ‘wow’ feeling. We also send free duck-shaped hand soap and a duck story book to deliver a unique product. Consumers will share their experiences by word of mouth when they have an experience that is far beyond their expectations.”
Almost all orders come from social media platforms Weibo and WeChat, Tang says.
“Our customer representatives on social media talk to consumers affectionately, and their relationship is more like friends, not just for business,” he says. “Every question posted is answered personally by service representatives we call ‘Mr. Duck.’ Some buyers even only order from a specific representative.
“Also we have a strong engagement with our consumers. Most posts on our social media account are consumer-generated, such as good experiences eating our products and good suggestions to help us improve. All of these messages help us gain brand awareness and allow us to evolve our business quickly.”
More than 70% orders come from repeat consumers, Tang adds. Customers pay in cash on delivery or by the Alipay online payment service of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
While not yet spending any money on advertising, the online restaurant has found other ways to get attention, such as by having delivery personnel wear Google Glass eyeglasses and drive flashy Mini Cooper cars when they make deliveries. “We take pictures of consumers’ first impressions and share them online if they permit,” Tang says.
The quirky business model and service has led to stories in the Chinese mass media, including China Daily, a Beijing newspaper. “Those media reports brought a huge number of new customers, and our sales increased immediately,” Tang says.
The company now has 30 employees and plans to launch its e-commerce website, callyazi.com, next month.
Like online shopping in China, online food ordering is growing quickly. Chinese consumers spent 62.28 billion yuan ($10.05 billion) on online restaurant in 2013, up 61% from a year earlier, according to Chinese research firm Pintu Consulting, which includes only purchases made online for offline consumption. One online restaurant that specializes in beef stew, Diaoyen Niunan, has been valued at around 400 million yuan ($64.5 million) by venture capital firms.
Large e-commerce companies have also have entered the market. For example, Alibaba Group last year launched its Taodianian service on Taobao.com, one of its big online shopping malls, to offer online ordering from restaurants. Consumers can order dishes from nearby restaurants, pay online, and either go to the restaurants to dine or have the food delivered.
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