re you a user of Chinese bike-sharing giant ofo who wants your deposit back? Well, prepare to get in line. A very, very, very long line.
Since early on Monday morning, hundreds of people have been queued up in the cold outside of the Beijing headquarters of ofo with the line twisting its way from the building’s front door to the street. They are there because they were told that the best way of getting their money back was to come to the headquarters and apply in person.
The customers are asking ofo to refund their deposits — which were 99 yuan ($14) for those who signed up with the company in the early days and 199 yuan ($28) for those who signed up later.
The latest tally shows that more than 10.6 million users are now demanding refunds, meaning that ofo now owes its customers at least 1 billion yuan ($150 million), but likely closer to 2 billion yuan ($300 million).
Despite this issue, ofo has insisted that it is not heading for bankruptcy and will handle the refund requests in the order in which they were applied for.
Last week, one crafty user poked a hole in this assurance by writing a message to ofo asking for a refund while pretending to be a foreigner. He received his 199 yuan back the following day, igniting outrage among the company’s users.
Riding China’s bicycle-sharing boom, ofo became one of the country’s two shared bikes giants along with Mobike. As its signature yellow-colored bikes spread across the Middle Kingdom, in 2017, the company also began expanding abroad — to cities like Singapore, Seattle, Sydney, and Cambridge.
However, facing a serious cash crunch, ofo has been forced this year to retreat from its international markets and attempt to shore up its domestic business. There are rumors that China’s ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing may step in to save the company by acquiring it, but, if ofo does indeed end up going under it certainly won’t be the first shared bike startup in China to do so.
During the summer of 2017, a number of hopeful bike-sharing business started shutting down as government regulators began to crack down and customers started stealing bikes. Most memorably, one unfortunate Chongqing startup was forced out of business after 90 percent of its bicycles went missing.
Last November, users of another bike-sharing company, Bluegogo, tried to visit the company’s headquarters in Beijing, only to find the office locked and abandoned.