EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

Pandemic generates new business models

Writer: Wu Guangqiang  |  Editor: Jane Chen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2020-07-06

The outbreak of coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on the world economy.

China has also been hit hard, with its GDP dipping 6.8 percent in the first quarter of this year, the first such decline since official statistics began to be released in 1992.

The lockdown of Wuhan and the strict quarantine across the country choked shops, restaurants, hotels, cinemas and factories. Some of my relatives and friends were forced to close down their small businesses.

China's exports have also been badly affected. Foreign clients either significantly reduced order quantities or simply canceled orders, leaving many Chinese businesses in a bind.

China is confronted with the gravest economic challenge in decades, which has brought tremendous pressures on employment, poverty relief, and hefty State expenditures.

Yet as the optimistic and resourceful Chinese always regard a crisis as an opportunity for another breakthrough or leapfrogging, they have come up with some new ways to get through the hard times.

The SARS epidemic in 2003 is said to have partly contributed to the fast growth of China's e-commerce. According to Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, he and his team were forced to stay indoors during the quarantine. To boost online trading in order to satisfy consumers' demands for merchandise, he ordered his developers to set up a platform. That was how Taobao, China's largest shopping website, came into being.

Among others, the rising stars amid the COVID-19 rage include online education platforms and live-streaming sales. While both had emerged and grew steadily before the outbreak, they experienced explosive development after the virus struck.

Hundreds of millions of students stayed at home after the outbreak, which posed serious problems for their education. Thanks to China's developed Internet infrastructure and high mobile penetration among the population, schools quickly moved most of their courses online, transiting from the traditional face-to-face lectures to "emergency remote learning." Many e-commerce companies, including Alibaba and Tencent, launched numerous apps designed for online courses in response to the surging demands.

Tsinghua University moved nearly 4,000 courses online in mid-February on its self-developed Rain Classroom, an interactive teaching mini-program on WeChat.

The ever-advancing technologies are continuously improving the quality of teaching and teacher-student interaction. Many experts expect that the pandemic will be a catalyst for educators worldwide to search for innovative solutions, which will facilitate the sharing of educational resources among both developed and underdeveloped areas.

The live-streaming sales are really a phenomenal success. Many business owners were live-streaming novices before the pandemic, but when their businesses so dramatically declined as to threaten their survival, they had no choice but to try anything that could help. Unexpectedly, live-streaming sales helped turned the table.

The first sector to reap the benefit was catering. Restaurant owners and chefs began live streaming their signature dishes in their kitchens and their efforts paid off. Take-away orders increased steadily, and in many cases, the number of people served even outnumbered eat-in customers. Having benefited from live streaming, many restaurants have made it their long-term business.

Internet celebrities are creating staggering sales records using their huge influence. Li Jiaqi, a 27-year man dubbed "the king of lipstick," once sold 15,000 lipsticks within five minutes. Wei Ya, a 33-year-old singer-turned-broadcaster on Taobao, sold 70 million worth of goods in a single live-streaming event in October 2017. But it was nothing compared to her sale of a US$6 million rocket launch service in April this year, a sale so difficult to believe that Taobao had to issue a statement confirming the sale was real and not an April Fools' joke.

Officials have also jumped on the bandwagon to peddle local brands of their cities. On April 8, Wuhan's Vice Mayor Li Qiang and his colleagues sold nearly 300,000 items in nine hours – including 44,000 portions of Mr. Li's favorite hot and dry noodles.

Even the 127th China Import and Export Fair, popularly known as Canton Fair, went online due to the pandemic-related travel restrictions. Some 26,000 enterprises in 16 categories showed their customers 1.8 million products online.

Indisputably, without restrictions of time and space, farm products, seafood and fruits from remote places find their way into millions of families. Live streaming promotes the sales by bringing the buyers to the scene.

More importantly, the booming live-streaming sales display the resilience of China's economy and the ingenuity of the Chinese people.

(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer.)