On Oct. 1, a new player entered the Chinese food market in Athens. Dinhonline allows shoppers to place orders online and have food delivered to their doorstep.
The service is the brainchild of University of Georgia undergraduate He Xian, a 22-year-old senior student studying philosophy and sociology. His family immigrated to the U.S. from Beijing six years ago and now lives in the Atlanta area.
Xian spent September testing Dinhonline. During the trial, 49 orders were submitted by 70 Chinese UGA students. He estimates that about 700 students from China are currently enrolled at the university.
Xian is the owner and sole employee of this online shop, but he obtains foods from Dinho Market in Chamblee, which his uncle owns.
Dinhonline provides delivery service twice a week, covering six areas around campus including Family Housing, Riverbend and Lakeside. On Fridays, Xian delivers hot pot ingredients for people throwing weekend parties. Hot pot mutton and beef is sliced thin by the young entrepreneur. Five of Xian’s friends help him deliver other goods on Sunday.
“One significant advantage of Dinhonline is the cheap price, which is only 5 percent higher than Dinho and 30 to 40 percent lower than a local store (located on South Lumpkin),” he said. His uncle sells to him at low prices and he adds only delivery and credit card charges.
“The foods are fresh and of high quality, as I help customers buy foods in Atlanta and deliver to their homes at the same day,” he said, “I don’t stock foods for too long.”
His website lists more than 1,000 items in eight categories, and during the trial period he offered 200 to 300 of them each week.
It’s hard to predict what will be popular, and in September he sometimes ran out of high-demand items on Sundays. This meant extra time shopping at the Great Wall Supermarket, another popular Chinese store in suburban Atlanta. Sometimes he simply couldn’t fill everything on a shopper’s list.
Xian has begun stockpiling beverages, instant noodles, biscuits and other popular goods in Athens because they’ll be in demand. He expects to iron out the stock problem before Dinhonline’s official opening day.
Xian got the idea for Dinhonline several years ago, when he discovered that UGA students without cars had trouble getting Chinese ingredients in Athens. He had a car, and some people asked him to bring them food from Atlanta.
“I wanted to make shopping and delivery more planned and efficient by opening an online store.” he said.
The website began to take shape this past May. In mid-August, Zhe Zhao, a Ph.D. student in computer science who's also from China, joined to help Xian customize the website.
“The first week we spent four hours picking up goods for 14 orders. After improving the website, it only took three hours for 25 orders in the second week.” Zhao said.
Xian is hoping to change the shopping habits of Chinese students during the coming months, but says many people are still used to shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.
“I wish there are more vegetables available on Dinhonline, and I prefer shopping near my home.” said Chuman Lin, a 22-year-old student from Guangdong, who lives near the Oriental Market. She bought vegetables and meat from Dinhonline in the second week of the test period, but didn’t continue in the third week.
Xian has plans for expansion. If everything works well in Athens, he is confident that Dinhonline can begin serving students in Clemson, S.C., next spring and Auburn, Ala., next fall.