May 20, 2017 9:00 am JST

In China, apps are helping people buy time

There's always someone else to stand in line, fetch your phone or cook

YU NAKAMURA, Nikkei staff writer

No task is too small for RenRen KuaiSong, which will even send someone to your office with a bottle of Coca-Cola. (Photo by Yu Nakamura)

GUANGZHOU -- As Chinese get busy at work and more money in their pockets, they know what they want to invest in: time.

Smartphone apps now allow users to outsource simple errands -- buying a can of juice and having it delivered to the office, picking up something forgotten at home, waiting for your number to be called at the hospital, even visiting a family member's grave.

As these "buy time with money" apps proliferate, the scope of the services is exploding.

The apps are easy to use.

Take Sichuan Chuangwu Technology's popular RenRen KuaiSong. If you crave a Coca-Cola but are tied up at work, all you have to do is open the app, type "Coca-Cola" into the product order section, fill in a delivery address and hit the "order" button.

In a minute or two, you will receive a phone call to confirm the order.

RenRen KuaiSong charges 30 yuan ($4.36) for each delivery of a designated item.

In early May, I gave the app a whirl and ordered a bottle of Coca-Cola.

The beverage was delivered to my office in 30 minutes. I paid 34 yuan altogether (the Coke was 4 yuan).

I could also place an order for a tea from Heytea, a store known for its cheese cream-topped teas. The shop is so popular that customers have to wait more than 30 minutes on average. But RenRen KuaiSong's task master endures the wait, buys the tea and delivers it.

The same 30-yuan service charge applies.

You can imagine why these apps are taking off in Chinese cities, where both husbands and wives usually hold down jobs and are particularly busy.

A 22-year-old who takes on tasks from RenRen KuaiSong said the number of users is on the rise.

"In principle, we will do whatever we are asked to do by someone who doesn't have the time," the man said. He added that the fee for a mission that does not involve shopping for something is 18 yuan.

What kind of errand might that be? Perhaps you get to work and notice that you forgot your smartphone at home. A RenRen KuaiSong runner can go get your smartphone and bring it to your office.

The rate varies, albeit only slightly, depending on the distance.

An app that hails housekeepers, called eJiaJie, is also becoming popular, especially among dual-income couples. Two hours of housecleaning starts at 100 yuan.

The Hao Chushi app, which summons professional chefs who then cook in your kitchen, is also enjoying a good reputation.

"It is very convenient when I have guests over," a 36-year-old woman in Guangzhou said.

Excluding the cost of the food, hiring a chef to cook five courses starts at 99 yuan.

Many women use the Helijia app to call manicurists to their homes. The app eliminates the hassle of visiting a salon and saves time.

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