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From bikes to fridges: We examine Shanghai's sharing trend

In the past few years the sharing economy in Shanghai has exploded. Beginning with ride sharing in the form of Didi, the industry has blossomed into all avenues of life from the essential and the convenient to the downright bizarre. Some sharing schemes have become hugely profitable endeavors, while others quickly ended in ruin and embarrassment.

A recent State Information Centre report projected the sharing sector to continue to grow by 40 percent annually for the next five years. The irony of this is that apart from ride-sharing apps, none of the others are actually ‘sharing’ initiatives, since the companies purchase or manufacture a product and then rent it out. Then again, renting doesn’t sound quite as warm and kind. Still, we can expect many more items and services to jump on the band wagon, to the point where we may not need to actually own anything in the near future.

Here are just some of the attempts at sharing in Shanghai, as well as a brief assessment on how they went.

Rides

Photo: Didi

The one that started it all, Didi, has become a mainstay of life in Shanghai. When Uber came to China in 2013 it lost a small fortune trying to compete and ultimately gave up, selling the rights to its China operation to Didi. Today one will rarely pass an intersection not surrounded by impatient customers staring at a GPS map.

Verdict: Extremely successful, and has the potential to make rattling taxis a thing of the past.

Bikes

Modern Shanghai has become the proving grounds for a very different type of gang war, with bikes of differing luminous colours battling for space on the city’s sidewalks. Although of course the real rivals in this war are Ofo and Mobike, competitors emerge almost daily with some sort of unique selling point. Xiang Qi offer hybrid bikes which run off both battery and leg power, while Cool Qi bikes come in the gaudiest gold and navy colour scheme you’ll ever encounter. Ofo themselves even offer special bikes for women complete with a smaller frame and princess basket, released 'Minion bikes' to mark the release of Despicable Me 3 and also seem to be on pretty good terms with Rihanna. Finding a share bike is not hard – one need simply look at what used to be a sidewalk before mountains of yellow and orange steel replaced it.

Verdict: Some companies, in particular the big two, have done extremely well. One startup over in Chongqing was forced to shut down after just six months of business when all of its bikes were stolen, but Shanghai has taken to the idea of quasi-disposable bicycles very well.

Fridges

In an attempt to contribute positively to community spirit, late last year a ‘Sharing Fridge’ was opened in Putuo district after similar initiatives found success in Spain and Dubai. The idea was for generous citizens and businesses to donate unneeded food so those who were not so fortunate could collect it. Unfortunately once word spread a small riot ensued and a day’s worth of food was nabbed in less than ten minutes. Weibo users shared photos of happy eaters absconding with many portions before security had to be called in to quell the expectant crowd. The fridge subsequently had to establish a system requiring beneficiaries to sign before they take a portion while volunteers keep an eye to ensure nobody takes too much.

Given some of the flatshares we've lived in here in Shanghai, a signing system and people watching a communal fridge sounds like a pretty welcome idea. No more opening the door to find an entire shelf taken up by a half-eaten watermelon...

Verdict: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Umbrellas

That’s right, an item which costs around 40RMB in Family Mart can now be rented from a dozen or so different apps. The umbrellas come with a lock to attach them to a fence once the rain dies down. Why don’t you see these around you ask? Well the deposit for one such rental umbrella was 30RMB, quite good value compared to purchasing one from a store, so most customers opted to keep them and forgo their deposit. As a result, good luck finding one now.

Verdict: A swing and a miss.

Beds

flickr: Rich Moffit

This June saw the arrival of sleeping pods in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, marketed towards office workers who might fancy a lunchtime nap. Within less than a month however, the human doghouses had been dismantled and taken away, yet to be seen again. The pods fall into an awkward area of policy since they’re not quite hotels or hostels. Hygiene and safety issues were also cited as potential problems, which should have been immediately obvious to all involved.

Verdict: Just sleep at your desk like everyone else.

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