Rice cookers and robot vacuums: a visit to NZ’s first Mi store

Demand for its e-scooters has been rabid since opening its first New Zealand store two weeks ago. But it turns out, Chinese electronics retailer Mi sells a whole lot more than just tiny modes of transport.

For just $679, you could own your very own Lime.

Well, not a Lime exactly, but an e-scooter of sorts. And not now, actually, but later on in December, because Mi, the bricks-and-mortar arm of the Chinese consumer electronics giant Xiaomi and the store that sells these surprisingly popular little machines, is out of stock – it’s still recovering from its Auckland opening day when it sold more than $250k worth of electric scooters.

The Mi Scooter (Photo: mi-store.co.nz)

In what appears to be an incredible stroke of good fortune, Mi’s store launch earlier this month coincided with an e-scooter awakening for New Zealand, an awakening spearheaded by rideshare company Lime. On its first day open at Auckland’s Sylvia Park, more than 1,500 people queued up from one end of the mall to the other in the hopes of getting their hands on one of Mi’s 400 scooters. And while there wasn’t anything near that amount of traffic when I paid a visit late last week, customers were still coming in one-by-one, eager to place their pre-orders ahead of the next shipment.

The robot vacuums are here.

With all this hubbub around e-scooters and whatnot, you’d be forgiven for thinking Mi was just a modern-day Bike Barn for two-wheeled machines. But as a tech company, Xiaomi is more like a Google or Amazon, selling speakers, fitness watches and mobile phones. In fact, Xiaomi has managed to build up quite a solid reputation when it comes to the latter, flogging smartphones that are actually quite cheap and apparently quite decent – a pretty admirable feat considering the crowded nature of the market.

It also becomes clear when you walk into the store that Xiaomi is – like Google-owned smart home company Nest – a big proponent of the Internet of Things, selling everything from high-powered security cameras and intelligent thermostats to a vacuum cleaner that uses an “algorithm to map out a layout of your home”. It even sells a rice cooker – a smart rice cooker – that allows you to select the texture of your rice via the Mi Home app. So, if you’re more of a “Soft Tasty” person, you’ll never have to have rice that’s “Sweet Waxy” ever again (whatever that means).

Xiaomi’s smart, not dumb, rice cooker.

If that all seems a bit over-the-top, that’s consumer electronics in 2018 for you. We’re living in a world of temperature-regulating coffee mugs, app-powered sous-vide wands, and an AI robot that folds all your laundry for you. Of course, most of these inventions are a product of our greatest modern plague: laziness. Why do you think e-scooters are so popular? They’re the last mile solution that’s less labour intensive than bike riding, less bothersome than public transport, and less tiring than, well, walking.

In fact, Xiaomi’s next big release in New Zealand is set to be the Ninebot Mini, which is basically a pint-sized Segway scooter. It’s about four times faster than walking and only about five times as ugly. Although, as far as scooters go, Xiaomi’s range is pretty sleek. Even its helmets embody that same clean aesthetic (matte finish, simple details on the brim etc.).

Among the slew of high-tech gadgetry on display, Mi’s shelves are also stocked with plenty of mundane accessories like selfie sticks, USB cables and power banks. It also sells a bunch of random lifestyle novelties like towels, backpacks and travel pillows in an obvious effort to target that group of customer that always seems to be ‘on-the-go’.

Xiaomi backpacks and smartphones

While Xiaomi might not have the same name recognition in the West as some of the more established tech giants, at least it can say it has a flagship store here, unlike some of its Silicon Valley rivals. Clearly, the company wants to build a larger reputation among the masses, and what better way to do that than to plop yourself down in the middle of that human consumerist zoo we call The Mall?

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