In a situation now being referred to as “labelgate,” employees at a Shanghai Hema grocery store (officially branded as “Freshippo” in English) were caught switching out the expiration dates on packages of carrots in order to make them seem up to five days fresher.
On Wednesday morning, Hema CEO Hou Yi announced on Weibo that the chain’s Shanghai manager had been fired over the not-so-smart retail fiasco. In addition, Hema will carry out inspections of all Shanghai stores.
According to Tencent News, the incident was first reported by a concerned Shanghai resident on November 15. While browsing the store, the shopper couldn’t help but notice a worker changing the labels on packages of carrots. A follow-up investigation by the Jing’an District Market Supervision Bureau revealed that the unsavory switch-up may have affected up to 180 units, 107 of which had already been sold. The store was ordered to take all suspect, self-labeled items off the shelves.
In his Weibo post, Hou Yi also made a public apology for the “label incident”: “To each dear customer, we deeply apologize. We’re sorry!”
Besides promising “the most severe punishment” for any other rule-breaking employees, Hou adds that Hema will recruit citizen shoppers to help police its staff.
A follow-up post at 11:30 am Wednesday describes the “work responsibilities” of the position, which are to carry out surprise inspections at any Shanghai store at least twice a week and to pass on information directly to Hou.
Notably, the vacancies are only open to Shanghai residents age 8 or older, although in a comment Hou says Hema is planning to expand the network nationwide.
Alibaba’s Hema store network previously gained a broad following for its blend of online ordering options with attractive offline stores. Previously, it even launched an in-store “robot restaurant” in Shanghai that replaces waiters with conveyor belts and phone apps.
It also boasts other innovative features such as allowing customers to trace their purchases’ origins by scanning labels. Although as the most recent incident shows, even the most high-tech solutions can’t always beat out old-fashioned dishonesty.