Japan’s Mercari forays into bike-sharing service with first launch in Fukuoka

L to R: Ryusuke Matsumoto (Executive Officer, Mercari / CEO, Souzoh), Gai Inoue (Product Manager in charge of Merchari, Souzoh)

See the original story in Japanese.

Japan’s Souzoh operating the local community app Mercari Atte, a subsidiary of Japanese unicorn Mercari behind the c2c (consumer-to-consumer) marketplace app under the same name, announced last month that it would enter the bike-sharing business with a new service called Merchari. The firm launched the service on Tuesday within Fukuoka City.

Merchari is a jointly-managed bike-sharing service. Users can rent bicycles at Merchari’s bicycle ports shown in the app and return them at ports near each destination. It charges 4 yen (about 4 cents) per minute for riding. Use time is measured from when a user unlocks the smart lock on a bicycle using QR code until when he finishes riding and locks it. The firm launches the service for iOS in advance. Gai Inoue, Product Manager of Souzoh, explained about the service:

This service is assumed to be used in a short time of around 15 minutes, so we set the charge plan for promoting frequent use in a short term.

The service will be provided based in Hakata, Tenjin and the waterfront area within Fukuoka City. The firm had prepared 50 ports and 400 bicycles at the time of launch and will increase them to 200 ports and 2,000 bicycles by this summer. Ryusuke Matsumoto, CEO of Souzoh, explained the reason why they had chosen Fukuoka as a place for service launch.

That is because we already have a customer support base in Fukuoka and this city consists overall of flat terrain suitable for cycling.

Additionally, we regard Fukuoka as a place where we can fill a gap of public transportation through improvement of the convenience of town transport within midtown.

Merchari is unlockable by QR code

The spec of rental bicycle in Merchari is as follows: 20-inch wheel, three-stage gear, without motor power assistance and made in Japan. It also has smart lock unlockable by QR code, provided by Japanese connected lock developer Tsumug. In addition, GPS is mounted on the bicycle so that users can grasp the bicycle location in real time by using the app.

Joint management to handle troubles

One of the features of this service is being managed jointly with local companies or individuals. 13 partner companies participated in the port provision at the time of launch, namely, Apa Hotel, Investors Cloud (TSE:1435), Family Mart, and Shinseido. Souzoh continues to ask the public to provide vacant spaces in individual housing or retailers, as well as the same of local private companies.

By making vacant spaces in front of houses into bicycle ports, new convenient lifestyle can be expected, like leaving house by a rental bicycle and dropping it off anywhere. We also think it allows retailers to increasing opportunity for customer to visit there.

The support service including monitoring and fault / trouble handling system is provided for 365 days. Tying up with Nishi-Nippion Railroard, Souzoh runs support trucks across town in order to move / pick up left bicycles in the wrong place or disabled bicycles.

To users who cooperated in fault handling or trouble prevention, the firm gives Merchari mileage to apply a concrete joint management system. A user is given mileage by putting a left bicycle back to ports or reporting a disabled bicycle via the app.

Ito said:

We have to adjust the imbalance among ports having excess / insufficient bicycles by relocation or to take measures to left bicycles. Since there is a limit to handle these problems by one company, we plan to ask supports by individuals and companies.

To do this, we develop various systems to give users a sense of satisfaction such as, motivate stimulation by incentive, mileage giving, game-like factor to find left bicycles, or visualization of outcomes.

Image credit: Souzoh

Service collaboration in the future

Merchari mileage cannot be used as point in the flea market app Mercari as of now, but the firm will explore the possibility of the service collaboration in the future. The firm currently plans a bonus system not allowing users to use mileage as bonus points but giving them additional services or novelties according to a certain amount of mileage.

Ito added:

You see Merchari in the town at a glance and can ride it quickly. We image such a concept.

The firm is considering further service development to new areas, although when and where have not been decided.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy