Over the last few years, the Chinese sharing economy has grown to include everything from bicycles to basketballs. Consumers can temporarily purchase these items at kiosks scattered around urban areas with the idea being that they’ll return the product once they’re done. But as one umbrella-sharing startup recently learned, that’s not always the case.
Sharing E Umbrella launched earlier this year after their founder realized that “everything on the street can now be shared.” The company started up in 11 Chinese cities with a stock of more than 300,000 umbrellas. To rent one, customers used an app to pay a deposit of about $2.50 along with a small charge for every half-hour they used the umbrella. The company also recommended that customers store the umbrellas at their homes until they could be returned later. “Umbrellas are different from bicycles,” said Sharing E Umbrella CEO Zhao Shuping. “Bikes can be parked anywhere, but with an umbrella you need railings or a fence to hang it on.”
As the company soon found out, however, most customers didn’t want to part with the umbrella once they rented it. Within a few months Sharing E Umbrellas had lost all of its stock to theft. Although each umbrella costs about $9 to replace, Zhao and his colleagues intend to rebuild their stock and hit the streets yet again. In fact, the company plans to release a total of 30 million umbrellas by the end of the year. That might be too late to save Sharing E Umbrella, though, since China receives the bulk of its rainfall during the summer. If the company can’t keep its stock on the streets in the coming months, it could fold like so many other Chinese sharing startups before it.
- What can Sharing E Umbrellas do to keep customers from stealing their stock?
- Do you think the sharing economy will take off in the U.S. like it has in China?