The Future of Shared Massage Chairs: Balancing User Experience and Demand Rigidity.

After the trending topic “Should Shared Massage Chairs Exist in Movie Theaters?” emerged, people have voiced various criticisms about massage chairs, including discomfort while sitting, neck pain from hard equipment, and massages starting suddenly during a movie. Emotions ran high, with many questioning why massage chairs are installed in movie theaters, wondering if they can’t simply enjoy their movie in peace.

Not long ago, shared massage chairs stirred controversy once again in China, this time due to hygiene concerns. Reports emerged of bugs found in massage chairs at a Guangzhou high-speed rail station, and a girl claimed to have developed hives after sitting in one. Industry insiders suggest this was likely due to inadequate hygiene management, such as not cleaning food residue left by consumers promptly.

Shared massage chairs seem to always court controversy, leaving people with mixed feelings about the rows of chairs in malls.

Why does this common sight in public places cause so much controversy?

For some, shared massage chairs are irresistible, offering relaxation after an eight-hour train journey. For others, the presence of shared massage chairs in a mall has become a yardstick for judging a place.

According to statistics from leading shared massage chair brand Guoheng, massage chair facilities in shopping malls around office buildings are often extremely busy between 12:30 PM and 2:00 PM.

The price of a cup of milk tea can get you a mini-SPA experience, and during long journeys, a simple scan can provide a first-class level of comfort, making it quite economical.

Some have become avid fans of shared massage chairs and can’t resist sitting in them whenever they see one. But many others avoid them like the plague.

Some people never dare to sit in a shared massage chair again after their first experience because the massages were uncomfortable, and the massage location and intensity were unadjustable, sometimes leaving them stuck in their seats. Thus, the first experience often becomes the last.

Ye Wenhui, founder and chairman of Guoheng, stated, “The comfort of massage services does indeed impact consumers’ repeat purchases.” He explained that the technology behind massage devices needs continuous improvement. Their technical team, consisting of over 100 people, collaborates with professional medical schools and institutions, holding numerous patents. User data and feedback are also integrated into massage technology enhancements. He noted, “Initially, our massages were primarily focused on the back, but later, we found that people’s legs get tired while shopping, so we specifically enhanced leg massages in mall devices.”

Massage comfort is just one part of the equation; what’s more important is that some users find it challenging to stop the massage. If you’re forced to wriggle in a massage chair, that’s embarrassing enough, but if the whole chair is lifted into the air, it’s even worse. When you’ve paid 20 yuan just to feel humiliated, you might be willing to pay double to make the massage stop.

Is there really no stop button?

Supposedly, there have been cases of people getting stuck in massage chairs on high speed trains and missing their trains, which makes one wonder

Ye Wenhui stated, “Well-established manufacturers of large brands typically include a stop button on massage chairs for safety reasons.” As a product that has been widely deployed only in recent years, both massage chairs and consumers need to adapt to each other. Currently, Guoheng has made the stop button conspicuous with a bright red color to make it simpler and more user-friendly during use.

Furthermore, people expect more humanized voice prompts from shared massage chairs. Some phrases like “Feeling tired from shopping? Take a seat and enjoy a massage,” or “If you don’t need a massage, please let me serve others,” can be understood and appreciated. But the warning “Paid use only, please do not sit idle” comes off as cold and mechanical. Although few have experienced the scenario of “sitting idle for too long, this seat will flip,” this intimidating warning has become synonymous with the merciless nature of shared massage chairs.

Ye Wenhui remarked, “As unmanned shared devices, voice prompts are mainly meant to guide consumers in the correct usage.” He added that another essential role of voice prompts is guiding users to lie in the chair so the system can “customize” massage locations and intensity based on their height and weight, enhancing comfort.

However, he also believes that voice prompts can be more humanized, and the volume can be made more comfortable. Fine-tuning these details is necessary to change people’s stereotypical impression of “massage chair voice driving people away.”

People’s feelings about shared massage chairs go beyond the product’s usage. When taking a train or a flight and seeing that all seats are occupied except the shared massage chairs, people wonder if they occupy public seats.

However, this concern is unfounded. According to survey data, the number of shared massage chairs in public places is not excessive. Places like airports and train stations determine the standard number of free public seats based on their capacity, similar to how restaurants allocate seating for commercial purposes.

Nevertheless, when people arrive at a movie theater and find that their purchased seats are “massage chair seats,” they still feel “forced consumption.”

Especially when seated in a massage chair in the dark and it suddenly starts massaging, the movie turns into an immersive 3D experience. In response, Le Mo Ba explained that whether it’s massage chair businesses or the theaters themselves, their collaboration aims to enhance the user experience. They state they will further improve the product experience of massage chairs to address user complaints. If the massage chairs become so comfortable that everyone wants to sit in them, those who blindly choose these seats might consider themselves fortunate.

Ye Wenhui stated, “In addition, we will enhance communication with users at the deployment sites.” If consumers know when booking movie tickets that the theater has massage chair seats, they won’t be taken aback by a sudden massage.

Since the shared massage chair is highly controversial, does it still have a chance of success?

Challenges outweigh opportunities?

Business model needs further development

Ideally, shared massage chairs should be profitable.

According to data from the China Industry Research Institute, with a 5% penetration rate of shared massage chairs in high-traffic public places, and an average consumption of 5-15 yuan per use, the annual consumption value can reach 20 billion yuan.

However, reality is quite challenging. The operation of shared massage chairs faces several obstacles.

First, high-quality placement locations are limited, and competition is fierce. In places with low foot traffic and low consumer demand, shared massage chairs can hardly turn a profit.

Second, the operating costs of shared massage chairs are quite high. Franchisees have stated that expenses such as site rent, operational costs, maintenance, and refurbishment costs are significant, making profitability elusive.

Xie Zhonghui remarked, “Take the daily cleaning of shared massage chairs as an example. Locations like train stations and airports usually employ personnel to wipe and clean the massage chairs every day. Some major massage chair brands also send staff to clean, operate, and maintain the deployed massage chairs on-site.” He believes these are indispensable cost expenses.

In his view, increasing efficiency is the path to profitability for shared massage chairs. On one hand, it’s essential to manage more devices with reasonable labor costs, and on the other hand, the efficiency of the devices themselves needs to improve.

The latter involves building user stickiness. Xie Zhonghui said, “Massage chairs are unmanned; everyone leaves after using them. How to

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