Putting Corner Stores and Repair Shops on the Digital Map
Once ubiquitous, small convenience and repair shops are slowly disappearing from city life in China. Urbanization and commercial megaplexes are driving out mom-and-pop shops and street vendors. Those still in business do not exist from a digital point of view: They have no website, no social media accounts, and an internet search reveals nothing. Nevertheless, these businesses are still very much in demand, especially in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Consumers are often frustrated, even heartbroken, when they realize their go-to repair shop is no more, that the person who always cut their keys or patched their bike tires or got the toaster working again is… gone.
Recognizing the practical value and cultural worth of these small businesses, we are on a mission to lift them into the digital age. We want to preserve and revive this very important way of life which we all know and love. Indeed, small shops put food on the table for many people. Our technology can help them keep pace with shifts in society.
The Tencent solution is simple. It has created a Small Shops and Repairs Map on its popular Weixin platform where the addresses and contact details of shops, once known only by word of mouth, can be pinned and searched on Tencent Maps. An integrated free AI program helps shops design logos and signage to put on their shop fronts to help customers spot them more easily from the street. Furthermore, the general public is enlisted to assist by adding the small shops they can’t live without to the Tencent digital map.
Aunty Hua is just one of many beneficiaries of the program. For 20 years, she has been making a living selling traditional Hakka products and general groceries from her 10-square-meter convenience store in Shekou, Shenzhen. The business supports her entire family. As the world went increasingly online, she and her store were rendered essentially invisible. She was anxious about whether her business would survive, but Aunty Hua did not know what to do. Now, with a brand-new sign on her storefront that reads “Aunty Hua’s Hakka Specialties,” she is feeling some relief.
“Being on Tencent Maps has made my business relevant again,” Aunty Hua said. “Not only does it remind my old customers where I am, it is also bringing me new customers, especially people looking for specialty Hakka products.”
There are numerous small neighborhood shops in all of China. Since the program was launched in early 2023, more than 500,000 shops from over 200 cities have been labeled on the Small Shops and Repairs Map, with more than 10,000 free signs made. More than 60,000 small shops were added to the map thanks to local consumers. A recent review of the platform’s performance finds the highest number of searches are for key-cutting services, followed by phone repairs and tailors.
Tencent will continue its efforts to keep small local businesses competitive in the ongoing digital revolution. As a next step, it will partner with Weixin Pay to support small shopkeepers in migrating onto the digital payment platform to better serve customers while making transactions easier and more streamlined.