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Couriers in the yellow economy hope to challenge China-owned delivery giant SF Express.

By Bonita Wong

As a bid to challenge China’s courier giant, SF Express and foster the yellow economy – business owned by pro-democracy operators, Cool Chan* founded Ala Bee Express in May. 

Before that, Chan owned a Chinese stew factory from 2017 to 2019. She produced and delivered wellness food products like stewed lemon with tangerine peel and herbal tea to her customers by SF Express.  

“I thought of founding a courier company in 2019, but I was too busy. When the pandemic hit in February, food orders slumped and the plan resurfaced. Now, I have transformed my business to a courier company,” says Chan, in her thirties. 

In June 2019, the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement triggered months of social unrest and protests in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy supporters have started building a yellow economy – an unofficial affiliation of pro-democracy businesses to boycott pro-government ‘blue’ shops and ‘red’ shops which are owned by Chinese capitals such as SF Express. 

Chan joined the crusade by closing down her food factory and setting up her own courier instead of using SF Express’s delivery service.

Chan had a rough start as a one-man operation.

“I arrived at the office at 3 a.m. to pack parcels and deal with new orders. I had to enter every piece of information to excel files manually until the online ordering system launched in September. I traversed the18 districts in Hong Kong for delivery from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Still, I could only handle less than 20 orders a day during the first few weeks,” she recalls. 

Cool Chan* handling delivery orders. (Photo courtesy of Cool Chan*)

“After two months of working myself into the ground, I did think of giving up. But I was expanding my business and had recruited eight employees at that time. They would be jobless if I quit. And I chose to hold on together,” Chan says.

“Many comrades (pro-democracy supporters) lost their jobs because of the pandemic or political reasons. I hope my company can create job opportunities, no matter they are short-term or long-term, and protect these people like a shield,” she says. 

“We have workers facing criminal charges, but we all agree to wait for their return and not to fill the vacancies while they cannot perform duties here,” Chan adds. 

“We have workers facing criminal charges, but we all agree to wait for their return and not to fill the vacancies while they cannot perform duties here.”

SF Express owns over 700 pickup points and 900 lockers in various locations providing home delivery services across the city. 

“It takes Hong Kong people too long to realise SF Express has been blanketing the market for years. It is almost a monopoly,” Chan says.

Pickup points function like a post office except that delivery is done by other couriers. It is a popular delivery option among office workers and students who are often not at home to collect parcels in regular hours.  

“Yet I don’t think it is impossible to rock the boat. I hope that one day when Hong Kong people want to deliver a parcel, they will think of Ala Bee Express rather than SF Express,” Chan adds.

King Kong Express is another fledgling “yellow” delivery service provider with nearly 100 pickup points now. 

Pickup points map of King Kong Express.

“SF Express has far more pickup points and it is a more convenient option. But it is infamous for breaking and losing packages, not to mention poor customer services,” says Nut Liu*, founder of King Kong Express. 

Liu is a recent graduate who has no experience in doing logistics. She set up the company in May after only a month and a half of preparation. 

“I hope Hong Kong people could stand in solidarity. We will never forget what happened and will work hard to sustain the yellow economy,” Liu says.

“I want people to have options other than SF Express. Youth is my greatest asset. I started without cars, employees nor website. I simply use Google form and WhatsApp for orders,” she adds.  

“Youth is my greatest asset. I started without cars, employees nor website. I simply use Google form and WhatsApp for orders.”

The courier company mainly promotes itself by Instagram. The account has around 7,880 followers now. “Yet our Instagram followers growth is still too low,” Liu says.

Liu and her team are struggling with many difficulties. 

“We lack computer science talents. Our website is built free of charge by a retired uncle. There are time constraints when we need any updates on the webpage, as he is not always available like a full-time worker,” Liu says.

“Managing pickup points is harder than I thought. Pickup points’ staff are the ones to deal with customers after all. Some of them have lousy attitudes but I can’t do much about that as I don’t own them,” Liu adds.

“The competition is tough, but I don’t see other yellow delivery service providers as rivals. We should leverage complementary strengths and collaborate to jostle a bigger slice of the pie. The high wall is the only ultimate enemy against the side of the egg,” Liu says.

Hannah Lee*, a university student, uses yellow delivery service whenever it is available even the service is not as convenient. “I want to support the yellow economy and cut down the use of SF Express,” Lee says.

When using pro-democracy delivery service company, Lee finds there are some inconveniences like failing to receive notice for package pick up, unclear directions to pickup points. 

“But these are just minor problems and they won’t affect my choice,” Lee adds. 

*Name changed at interviewee’s request

Edited by Lasley Lui & Regina Chen