When Chen Yan, a student from Minzu University of China, stepped into a fruit shop near her school, she was told that the fruit was not for sale.
"It's a shop for picking up fruit," said Xiao Chen, proprietor of the fruit shop - Xuxian Fruit. "You order the fruit online a day ahead, pay for it online, and then you can pick it up the next day," she told Chen Yan.
Just before Chen Yan figured out how the shop works, another buyer walked in, and was told the same thing by Xiao Chen. "This is how we avoid surplus stock and guarantee fresh fruits at competitive prices," she said.
So, how does this all work? Xiao Chen said the key is to know what the customers need in advance.
Unlike traditional fruit stores that have piles of fruit in stock waiting for customers to buy, Xuxian Fruit has their customers order fruit on their website xuxian.com, and then go to the store to pick up their order the next day.
"We purchase fruit according to orders, so there won't be fruit available for on the spot sale," Xiao Chen said. The shop holds each order for 48 hours and if it's not picked up by that time, the order is cancelled. There is no refund.
"Thus we cut down on stock costs, and that brings down the price of the fruit," she said.
On xuxian.com, various fresh fruits are pictured in alluring photographs. And their competitive prices simply make them all the more inviting.
Zhao Leyi, a student from Minzu University of China said that he has been buying fruit here since he heard about the website from one of his friends three months ago. He said he keeps coming because the fruits he picks up here are mostly fresh and tasty, and they seldom disappoint him.
He speaks to China Daily as he types his order numbers into theiPad mini that is linked to the screen on the wall. At the same time, Xiao Chen is packing the fruit according to his order displayed on the screen.
The shop, which is at the intersection of Minzu University of China and Beijing Foreign Studies University, is also a stone's throw from Beijing Institute of Technology. According to Xiao Chen, t serves about 200 customers every day. And when there's a sale, the number doubles.
On Tomb Sweeping Day, for example, the shop forwarded a "two for one" sale on xuxian.com, which attracted many new customers to have a try.
"We are not fruit lovers and we seldom buy fruit, but the fruit offered during festivals is really a bargain so we bought some," said Wang Yue, a student from Beijing Institute of Technology.
Wang Yue and his roommates bought a kilo of mandarin oranges for 3.5 yuan (S$0.8), a kilo of bananas for 4.5 yuan , both of which were 50 per cent off compared with those in the traditional fruit stores.
Xiao Chen said that her shop sold 30 boxes (over 300 kilos) of bananas on that day, that she is "crazy busy" and barely has time to pick up her phones.
Currently, there are 19 Xuxian Fruit stores scattered in Beijing, 14 of them adjacent to universities and the other five in the CBD. There will be more fruit stores opening in the months to come.
"Our goal is to make fresh fruit available to one-tenth of the university students in a year's time," said a spokesman for Xuxian Fruit in an interview with haiwai.net.
Across the street is a traditional fruit store, where the owner is rubbing his hands together to warm them in the chilly early April wind. Asked whether he feels threatened by Xuxian Fruit, he said he doesn't think so. "The students go because online selling seems interesting, most people prefer to buy on the spot," he said.
But he also admits the bargains offered by O2O business owners are quite attractive to customers.
Last year, Taodiandian, an online platform affiliated with Taobao.com that offers services specialising in catering, sent people to persuade him to open a shop online. He decided not to try at that time, "afraid that it was a trap", he said.
But this February when the fruit store next to his agreed to join in, he changed his mind. And he said sales have actually gone up because of the customer refunds offered by Taodiandian.
"Now we have less fruit left to rot, because more people come to buy fruit, and they buy more online," he said.