Cashier-less convenience store chain Bianlifeng was established in December 2016 by Zhuang Chenchao, former CEO of online travel agency Qunar. Its first store opened in Beijing in February 2017. The chain deploys numerous cameras that constantly feed information to centralized data processors, which analyze passenger foot traffic and manage store operations like product selection, orders, and scheduling. This required an enormous initial investment paired with a huge technical team. In all, 60% of the company’s headcount works in technical development and upkeep.
At the moment, Bianlifeng has more than 2,000 stores in 20 cities in China, chiefly concentrated in business districts. This rapid climb in store count forms a deep contrast to FamilyMart’s 2,500 locations that were opened over a 16-year period.
Bianlifeng has raised two rounds of funding totaling USD 556 million, according to business data aggregator Tianyancha. The most recent round was in December 2018, with Hillhouse Capital and Tencent leading a USD 300 million injection.
The chain holds stakes in multiple processing plants that handle and package fresh food, including a facility that supplies 7-Eleven stores. It also holds land-use rights for 20,000 sq m of land in Tianjin, where it will construct a supply and processing facility for its fresh food products.
Bianlifeng’s stores carry nearly 400 proprietary products. The revenue share of these products and fresh food are roughly the same as that of 7-Eleven, FamilyMart, and Lawson—three Japanese convenience store chains that are popular in China. In April, Lawson said its China business achieved full-year profitability for the first time in 2020—25 years after it began operations in the country.
At a supplier conference held last year, Bianlifeng executive director Xue Enyuan said the company will enter “rapid expansion mode” in 2021, aiming for 10,000 operational locations by the end of 2023. Half of its stores are expected to be in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. (Source: kr.asia.com)