“Companion crabs”: Dingdong provides pets for your cats

Key takeaways:

  • Sesarmidae sinensis crabs, or companion crabs go viral while sold out on Dingdong.
  • They are sold as pets for pet cats and attract young people, cat owners or not.
  • Dingdong harnessed organic UGC and made use of the trend.

This May, there has been a new pet craze. After the cardboard box dogs and hairy mango pits, the latest trend involves animals, in this case, Sesarmidae sinensis crabs. They are part of the Sesarmidae family, related to vampire crabs. Indeed, it is, as some might describe with the latest internet lingo, “next level”. The reason is because the trends now involve not one, but two pet crabs, and they are actually pets for your pet cat. Aptly named “companion crabs”, these crustacean companions will set you back 18.80 RMB (2.60 USD) per pair. This is all because of creative listings on Dingdong, an online supermarket and local lifestyle service platform.

Emotional support crabs

Sesarmidae sinensis crabs are called “xiang shou xie” in Chinese (相手蟹, some say it’s because its two giant pincers look like traditional hand-and-fist greetings). However, some of the listings replace the “手” character with “守”, making it “相守蟹”, or companion crabs. These crabs were once food but are less favoured lately due to their lack of meat. It has been a niche novelty pet for some time but has never hit the mainstream until now.

This all changed in mid-May, when netizens discovered that these companion crabs started to sell out after a new listing description gave the not-so-desirable-as-food-and-not-that-popular-as-pet crabs a new purpose – your cat’s pet. For 18.80 RMB, you get a pair of crabs, a clear box for keeping them, pebbles to make the box into a simple terrarium and two bags of crab food.

This all changed when a new listing description gave these crabs a new purpose – your cat’s pet

Krusty Krabs?

“One is named Sodium Chloride (table/kosher salt) and the other Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)”, reads the description for the companion crabs as they ascended to the top of the best-seller list of crabs and stayed there for days, beating the 30 RMB (4.15 USD) for 20 similar-looking freshwater crabs.

The original listing was just for humans to keep these crustaceans as pets as they require minimal care, they only need feeding. However, there is a tip at the end of the description, following how to use pierced cling film to prevent escape; that they can be enjoyed fried. The latest description, however, cut the chilling line and replaced it with “felines should admire them under supervision of humans”.

(Crab) apple of my eye?

The phenomenon, of course, started organically before the platform picked it up. It began when pet influencers on Xiaohongshu found that their cats get completely absorbed when staring at the tiny crabs. The trend of cat watching these crabs went viral at the same time as the crabs sold out and became known as feline TV for a while. Currently, there are 5,384 notes written about the crabs, with cats or not. The crabs later went on to become a popular office pet, as humans also found them fascinating to watch. Following the trend, Dingdong released nicer furnished boxes. Single crabs are also listed, in case you get 2 males or two females from the original box.

Dingdong, a New York Stock Exchange-listed company since 2021, recently released its financial report for the first quarter of 2024. The platform grew 1.4% year-on-year (YoY) in terms of GMV, reaching 5.53 billion RMB (764.45 million USD). In Q1 2024, Dingdong had a 30.6% gross margin and a 0.8% Non-GAAP profit. The net profit is 41.48 million RMB (5.73 million USD), six times compared to the same period last year. This would mean that Dingdong has made a profit for six consecutive quarters.

This would mean that Dingdong has made a profit for six consecutive quarters

This March, Dingdong opened a second location of its offline supermarket brand Dingdong Outlet in Wuxi, Jiangsu after its first one in Songjiang, Shanghai. The online grocery platform has been experimenting with offline discount supermarkets. By diversifying its channels and innovating marketing flicks such as the companion crabs, hatchable soft-shell turtle eggs and creatively named wild vegetables, Dingdong is integrating its online and offline strategies with social and e-commerce. It is worth watching how the platform continues to grow online and offline, through expansion or further penetration.