Throughout the pandemic, businesses and industries across the globe have had to adapt to increased, swiftly changing restrictions, closures and some had to even adjust their business models.
It’s often during these times that we are reminded of how dining out, whether it’s at a delicious family run noodle shophouse or at a Michelin-starred establishment, is important to daily lives.
The restaurant industry is powered by countless stakeholders and platforms. On one side of the spectrum, we have food delivery platforms for when staying in and getting dressed, we have restaurant coupon platforms and then on the other end, we have restaurant discovery and reservation.
This is where Chope comes in. The platform enables users to make reservations, secure their seats and earn some perks while they’re at it. The Singapore headquartered company is also rolling out their deals platform in Thailand, a curated marketplace for dining deals.
In August, Ant Financial poured US$15 million into Chope as part of a regional strategic partnership, which also saw the platform leverage Ant’s technology solutions to power their services.
We sat down with Thanyaporn ‘Mod’ Chaisukkasem, Chope Thailand’s Head of Sales to talk about the new cash injection, the pandemic effect and what the platform has in store for deal savvy customers.
The Business: How Chope Rewards its Users
For those who are unfamiliar, Chope is a restaurant discovery and reservation platform with presence in Bangkok, Phuket, Jakarta, Bali, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore, where it was first launched in 2011. The platform has since expanded to offer options such as dining vouchers, staycation bookings, meal kits and wine in other markets.
“Chope’s founder, Arrif Ziaudeen, saw that people were transitioning online for things such as flight and cinema bookings, so why not have one for restaurants?” says Thanyaporn.
“Our core value for customers is that we connect diners to restaurants, where diners can discover restaurants, book with ease, and save on dining deals,” says Thanyaporn.
But we can imagine that it sometimes takes more effort to always book a table through a dining app, no? We ask Khun Thanyaporn about why users would opt to book on Chope rather than directly contacting restaurants.
“28% of reservations are made between 10pm to 10am when most restaurants are closed, so using Chope to book a table anytime with instant confirmation is more convenient,” says Thanyaporn. “Plus, each time you fulfil a restaurant reservation, you’ll get a minimum of 100 Chope-Dollars, that’s more rewarding than just calling up a restaurant!”
Chope-Dollars are similar to airline miles. You can redeem these points for attractive rewards, and this outweighs just calling to make a reservation. Convenience is king, right? Well, convenience with perks is essentially a no brainer.
Chope-Dollars gets you access to redeem rewards on ChopePerks, their loyalty programme—from THB 250 dining vouchers, discounts at Pomelo, to free hot desking passes at co-working space Common Ground.
The ecosystem of perks and discounts is how a platform like Chope manages to keep their users within the ecosystem, the more you use the app, the more you get rewarded.
Chope rewards users for their consistent activity on the platform, this is part of an effective retention strategy.
Chope’s Role in the Value Chain
With so many stakeholders and moving parts in the restaurant value chain, we wanted to talk about where Chope positions themselves, particularly as they’ve been in the game for quite some time.
“Thais really enjoy eating out and experiencing new trends, particularly over the last few years,” says Thanyaporn. “The dining out landscape is essentially a hungry, 360-degree world and Chope positions ourselves at the very beginning of the chain.”
Chope sees themselves as a matchmaker between the customer and the restaurant.
“We come in right at the beginning. When you’re thinking of dining out, we’ll connect you to restaurants you’ve never tried before, or assist you in securing a place you love,” says Thanyaporn. “We also leverage social media, online marketing and email newsletters to curate deals that may interest you before you even make a reservation.”
The relationship with Chope doesn’t end right after your reservation is fulfilled. After dining out, Chope will encourage you to leave a review via their partnership with TripAdvisor. The platform continues to leverage data to send personalized and targeted recommendations to users, based on their preferences as well as dining history.
Chope’s Pandemic Pivot
The pandemic effectively locked all parts of the world down at some point or another, and whilst that was good for delivery players, it was less so for the restaurants themselves. Bangkok has lived through about three semi-lockdowns now, and the latest round of Omicron-fueled surge was the most challenging.
“When eating out became eating in, like other brands that prided themselves on having an outgoing lifestyle, we quickly pivoted,” says Thanyaporn. “During our first lockdown last year, we acted quickly by assisting restaurants in closing out sessions, as well as providing marketing support for deliveries.”
For Chope, it was an immediate priority to help restaurants. “We’re in the same boat,” says Thanyaporn. “We promoted restaurants through email marketing and social media and just helped in any way we could.”
Chope has been proactive in advocating for ordering in when necessary, and about dining out safely when allowed. Their extensive list of recommendations included off-peak venues, outdoor dining and hidden gems.
Covid-19 is still very much present in Thailand, but since restrictions have eased, people have been enthusiastic about dining out in restaurants.
“We have an active dining out culture in Bangkok,” says Thanyaporn. “Chope has seen a big uptick in reservations since restrictions were lifted.”
Reservations on Chope’s platform’s have surged by 75% since restaurants reopened in September. Bookings have picked up particularly during Friday to Sunday, especially after the curfew was shortened last month.
“When curfew started at 10pm instead, we saw an uptick of 60% for weekday reservations,” says Thanyaporn.
“The future of dining will be omnichannel,” says Thanyaporn. “Whilst people will generally want to eat out and socialize, there will also still be that comfort of ordering in occasionally as well.”
Ant Group’s Technology Stack
Chope has secured US$15 million as part of a strategic partnership with Ant Group, which will see the business leverage Ant Group’s technology stack and expertise. Businesses like Chope compete with one another through technology and data management, this partnership will provide the platform with leverage in the landscape.
“Aside from payment, where we will be able to integrate AliPay, Ant Group will share their expertise in building mini-apps inside the Chope app across our markets,” says Thanyaporn.
For Ant Group, entering new markets through Chope will enable them to serve local customers beyond Chinese tourists and signals a long term commitment in Southeast Asia and possible expansion. For Chope, the company is setting sights on a largest O2O F&B platform in Southeast Asia, a future of accessibility for lifestyle, dining with payment and e-vouchers integration.
“Because of this shared ambition, Ant Group is an ideal partner for Chope.”
The Chope Ecosystem: Deals
On January 20, Chope Thailand will be launching a new deals platform, an online marketplace for dining deals with over 30 vouchers from a curated list of restaurants in Bangkok and Phuket.
The process is straightforward — simply purchase a dining voucher through the Chope app or website, instantly access the voucher code in your account on the app, make a reservation at the restaurant, and present the voucher code to the restaurant staff before ordering.
“Deals will be available for users in both Bangkok and Phuket,” says Thanyaporn. “Beyond dining in Phuket, users can also purchase vouchers for attractions!”
Chope will initially be focusing on the domestic market for these new offerings, in tandem with the Thai government’s domestic tourism initiative which has been encouraged through various travel schemes.
“We have seen that certain restaurants in Phuket are doing particularly well,” says Thanyaporn. “Especially the ones catered to tourists—when the Phuket Sandbox started, there was a 130% increase in reservations.”
What’s Next for Chope?
“At Chope, we are constantly adapting and being responsive to change,” says Thanyaporn. “The pandemic has shown us that businesses have to always be quick on their feet.”
Even if the pandemic disappears in the future, we believe that it will have accelerated fundamental changes and trends in certain industries.
“Chope will always have competitors who will compete with technology solutions,” she says.
“We’re confident in our capabilities and solutions, especially with Ant Group coming on board as our partner.”
Beyond future ambitions, we also talked about how pandemic trends may be retained.
“I do believe that even after things go back to normal, a lot of users will still see the convenience of making reservations through Chope,” Thanyaporn says. “Our offering comes with added benefits, which should still resonate with our customers.”
Their deals platform will also be a priority for Chope Thailand going forward, as Chope is moving towards a mass market which users can look out for more restaurants as well as non-reservable deals to join the curated dining deals marketplace in the future.
As the restaurant and service industry begin to bounce back, we’ll be seeing more product developments and innovative offerings from players across the value chain. Chope included.