Chinese online grocery platforms in huge demand after coronavirus outbreak

By Luo Shanshan, People’s Daily
Online grocery stores have become a new option for Chinese families because of the novel coronavirus which confines millions of people across the country.
Statistics indicate that Missfresh, an online grocery platform backed by tech firm Tencent has seen a year-on-year growth of over 300 percent since the Chinese New Year holiday, and its rivals Meituan and Jingdong Shengxian also witnessed obvious sales growth in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wuhan. Vegetables, foodstuffs, fruits, meat, eggs, and aquatic products accounted for over 60 percent of these platforms’ daily sales.
Li Jie, a retired teacher living in Nanjing, east China’s Jiangsu province who used to buy vegetables at supermarkets, recently ordered two bags of fresh vegetables from an online grocery platform. “It took me around 100 yuan and these vegetables can feed my family for a couple of days,” She told People’s Daily.
Now the retired teacher rarely goes to supermarkets due to the epidemic. She said that it’s convenient and safe to have the couriers send the commodities to her doorstep. She learned how to order vegetables online from her daughter during the Chinese New Year holiday, and is now able to select products and pay deftly.
The epidemic is driving larger-than-usual demand for groceries on online platforms. Wang Jun, partner and chief financial officer of Missfresh noted that the upper-stream industries of China’s agriculture have huge capacity, and the urgent problem is not production but labor shortage which results in difficulties in picking and transportation. It calls for collaboration to stabilize the supply side.
The General Office of the Ministry of Agriculture, the General Office of the Ministry of Transport, and the General Office of the Ministry of Public Security jointly issued a notice, requiring strict implementation of a “green channel” system that ensures unobstructed transportation of fresh agricultural products, as well as the orderly supply of non-grain food and agricultural means of production.
To relieve the labor shortage, e-commerce giant Alibaba’s Hema chain started “sharing” employees with catering enterprises. By Feb. 10, over 1,800 employees have joined the grocery chain. At present, this model has been widely applied by online grocery platforms, and the employees who passed health examinations and quarantine are working temporarily for these platforms to maintain normal operation.
Since the onset of the epidemic, many online grocery platforms have started providing non-contact service. Users can choose such service on mobile applications or tell the couriers to place the commodities at designated places via phone calls.
A citizen named Zhang Xinxia in Chengdu, southwest China’s Sichuan province was one of the many who have used such service. After typing the code on a smart locker at the south gate of her residential complex, the woman immediately received a bag of fresh vegetables she had ordered on an online platform.
Yao Xin, secretary general of the Commercial Sub-Council of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, told People’s Daily that non-contact delivery not only enables the customers to enjoy fast delivery, but also helps them avoid close physical contact and lower risk, which guarantees the health of both the customers and couriers.
According to a report issued by online delivery platform Meituan, over 80 percent of the orders placed between Jan. 26 and Feb. 8 were delivered by non-contact methods, and 66 percent of the customers requested non-contact delivery for every order.

A courier places grocery on a shelve at a residential complex in Beijing, Feb. 14. Online grocery delivery platforms have built “non-contact” depositories in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Photo by People’s Daily

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