The sharing economy has hit its predictable limit all too soon. Mere weeks after implementing its sharable umbrella service in 11 cities across China, ambitious startup Sharing E Umbrella announced that most of its 300,000 umbrellas had been stolen from stands located near subway and bus stations. Who could have foreseen such an outcome?
Unfortunately not the company's CEO and founder, Shenzhen-based businessman Zhao Shuping. Shared bicycle services are popular in China, and the Sharing E Umbrella CEO told the Chinese press he'd been inspired by the business model's success and that he "thought that everything on the street can now be shared."
Sadly this proved not to be the case, with the company admitting on its website that hundreds of thousands of users had discovered it made more sense to simply steal one of the attractively rainbow-striped umbrellas after paying a deposit of 19 yuan (around AU$3.70). Upon returning the umbrella, customers were meant to pay a fee of 0.50 yuan for every 30 minutes of its use.
Sharing E Umbrella launched in April after attracting investors to the tune of 10 million yuan (around AU$1.9 million). Umbrellas were available in major economic bases throughout China's mainland, including Shanghai, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Nanchang.
As Zhao was forced to admit, "Umbrellas are different from bicycles."
Sharing E Umbrella isn't even the first umbrella sharing business in China to encounter this issue—the Shanghai Metro attempted a similar initiative in 2014 but also found people wouldn't return the umbrellas to receive their paltry deposits.
As Shanghai List reports, Chinese sharing businesses have been having a rough time of it, and bicycle sharing isn't immune to theft either. While local equivalents of Uber and Air Bnb are taking the country by storm, two shared-bike startups—Wukong Bicycles and 3Vbike—both went out of business when nearly all their bikes were stolen within six months of opening this year.
With each stolen umbrella costing Sharing E Umbrella 60 yuan, it's suffered a substantial loss as a result of the public's predictable if coldhearted theft. The startup maintains that it will continue to roll out more umbrellas, hoping to make more than 30 million of them available to commuters by the end of 2017.
The dream of an umbrella-sharing utopia lives on—although as some detractors have pointed out, it will likely face even more problems when China's rainy season ends in a few months.
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