Chinese cashier-free convenience store operator Bianlifeng has secured at least $100 million in a new funding round that brought the total capital raised by the startup to about $1.5 billion, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
The startup has realised profitability for all self-branded shops in the Chinese capital city of Beijing about one year ago and is poised to make its operations profitable across the whole nation by the end of 2022, said the source, who asked not to be identified because the information is not made public by the company.
The identity of the investors who backed the round and the post-money valuation of Bianlifeng could not be ascertained.
The investment comes as China is progressing towards an era of cashier-free retail outlets even after a series of shutdowns and layoffs among the country’s smart retail players in 2018 due to the sector’s high technological barrier, maintenance costs and commodity loss rate.
Guoxiaomei, which had IDG Capital and Vertex Ventures China among its investors, was reportedly shut down in the first half of 2018. Its WeChat mini-programme has stopped operation. Guangzhou-based istore also saw the number of its cashier-free convenience shops in the city shrink from nine in October 2017 to merely three in March 2019.
At the peak in 2017, Chinese cashier-free convenience companies have raised a combined 4.3 billion yuan ($603 million) in financing, according to market researcher itjuzi.com.
Beijing-based Bianlifeng, whose name can be translated into “convenience bee” in English, operates 24-hour convenience shops in China that allow customers to use a QR code-based point of sale (POS) system to settle their payments without the presence of cashiers.
Besides the operation of brick-and-mortar shops, the company also enables users to purchase fresh produce and daily supplies by placing orders through Bianlifeng’s mobile app and WeChat mini-programme. These orders will be delivered to self-service smart lockers installed at nearby residential communities for customers to pick up after a simple scan of the QR code with their phone.
The startup was founded in December 2016 by China’s Peking University alumnus Zhuang Chenchao, the former CEO of Beijing-based online travel agency Qunar.com. It opened its first smart convenience shop in February 2017 and recorded over 1,000 offline stores as of September 2019.
The company set a plan to further expand the number of stores to 10,000 by late 2022, said the company at an event last September.
Zhuang launched Zebra Global Capital, a technology-focused private equity fund, in early 2016 with ex-Qunar CFO Zhao Yilu and CTO Wu Yongqiang. Zebra Global Capital is a major backer of Bianlifeng.