Replica of Pony Ma’s office desk in 1999 (Image credit: Luckin Coffee)

Coffee startup Luckin Coffee has partnered with Tencent’s instant messaging platform QQ to open its first QQ-themed outlet in Shenzhen, the home city of the Chinese gaming giant, the company announced today through its WeChat account.

Dubbed 1999 beta, the store is decorated with QQ’s theme and imagery dating back to the beginning of this century to evoke nostalgic feelings from Chinese millennials, who have been using the decades-old instant messaging tool since they first went online. To create that warm feeling, a replica of the working desk of Tencent’s founder Pony Ma in 1999 was placed in the store along with the first version of QQ’s signature penguin mascot.

Luckin’s challenge to Starbucks has been focused primarily on brick-and-mortar expansion. The delivery startup said in January this year that it aims to overtake Starbucks as the largest coffee chain operator in the country by increasing the total number of outlets to 4,500, adding 2,500 new stores in the coming year.

Marketing veteran Starbucks, on the other hand, has been quite successful with their  WeChat gifting feature. The most recent frenzy over Starbucks’ limited edition of Cat Paw Cup, a cute double-walled cut that takes the shape of cat paw when it’s filled with coffee or milk, has become viral since the beginning of this March. Demand for the cup has become violent at times with costumer fighting over it.

Luckin’s partnership with Tencent links the new company to the decade-long brand in China. In addition to the nostalgic millennial, the WeChat sibling retains popularity among China’s Generation Z with its new positioning as a one-stop entertainment portal for Chinese youth.

The themed-outlet comes as a part of Luckin’s strategic agreement with Tencent announced in September last year. Alibaba sided with Starbucks in August 2018, offering delivery services to the coffee giant through its food delivery platform Tencent-backed rival Meituan paired with Luckin Coffee on delivery services in December of the same year.

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via or Twitter.

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