Culture

For Some Strange Reason, an Umbrella-Sharing Service Isn't Working Out

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There are bad ideas, and then there are really bad ideas. While bike sharing businesses have popped up in different parts of the world with varying degrees of success, it seems that the CEO of the start-up Sharing E Umbrella realized a little too late that “Umbrellas are different from bicycles.”

While many Chinese citizens are quick to rent a bike to get around a bustling cityscape and return it later that day, the team at Sharing E Umbrella didn’t realize how tempting it is to just keep a relatively inexpensive and useful handheld tool.

Here’s how E Umbrella is supposed to work: You’re at a bus stop or train station, it’s raining, and you don’t want to show up to work drenched, so you’ll put down about $3 as a deposit to rent an umbrella. You will be able to retrieve your umbrella from the kiosk after paying for it via the official E Umbrella app, and you’ll be charged an additional seven cents for every half hour you’re holding onto it. Oh, and you’re supposed to return it to a kiosk when you’re done. But for some reason or another, the company simply isn’t charging a fee for pocketed parasols…

Unfortunately for Zhao Shuping, Sharing E Umbrella’s founder, people are more than happy to “rent” an umbrella, but users have decided to hold onto nearly 300,000 rental umbrellas since the service launched in April. That’s almost every $9 umbrella from kiosks located in 11 different cities down the drain. But Zhao feels that E Umbrella isn’t washed up yet, and he still plans on bringing 30 million additional umbrellas to towns across China later this year.

I can think of a few ways to bring back some of the $1.47 million dollar investment used to launch E Umbrella, such as installing GPS trackers on the 30 million incoming umbrellas, and actually charging users if they don’t return their rental. After all, for each successful Chinese bike rental brand like Mobike, you have massive fails like Wukong Bicycles, which was forced to shut down after 90 percent of their GPS-free bikes were stolen without a trace. I can imagine that bike rental services could work in certain parts of the U.S., but I can’t think of anyone I know who would rent an umbrella…