China is a very digitally savvy country, something which was clear long before the COVID-19 situation broke out. But this ‘Special Period’ has seen it gain new momentum as businesses look towards technology to safely maintain operations. Some say that the preference for digital payment tools over grubby cash bills may have actually helped limit the spread of the virus. The digital revolution definitely got another push through this virus; while online ordering was a luxury that brought convenience to people’s lives, it has now become a necessity.
In this second part of our Coronavirus blog series, we delve into the ways that businesses dealt with the limitations of the epidemic and government measures. Whether it’s adapting to having staff work at home, reassuring customers of hygiene standards or developing online learning platforms, companies found a myriad of ways to continue doing business under these special circumstances.
The world at your doorstep
Following the implementation of the government’s extreme measures, companies swiftly followed suit to show customers and officials their commitment to beating the virus. Every establishment that is still open at this time requires temperature checks for all customers and visitors, very regular disinfection of all surfaces and sometimes even customers! That said, many restaurants, cafes, sports facilities and entertainment venues remain closed until further notice.
The large companies that remain working have actively taken measures. Taxi service Didi asks customers to report if their driver wore a mask. Housing agency Ziroom promotes pictures of its moving service with employees lined up in hazmat suits and carrying big bottles of disinfectant. Some restaurants on takeaway app ele.me provide reports of their staff’s temperatures to show that nobody, from the waiters to the chefs handling the food, were unhealthy.
Besides ordering food, online grocery shopping has also boomed. Where supermarkets like Alibaba’s 盒马Hema were already popular for offline shopping as well, online orders at Hema and Tencent’s 每日优鲜Missfresh have been at an all-time high since the virus outbreak. Most shoppers order ingredients to last them several days, which puts a big strain on these companies supplies and supply chain. Additionally, deliverymen are in short supply, and may either encounter favorable road conditions due to the quiet traffic, or obstacles because of roadblocks.
Going online is the new going out
The most logical way to continue doing business during these times, is by going online. This is where apps such as 企业微信WeChat for work, Alibaba’s 钉钉Dingding and Zoom come in useful. Skype has also been used much more than usual. The fact that offices are closed, many workers are still in their hometowns, and the risk of contamination all provide a robust motivation for going online.
Not only have businesses taken this route, but also educational enterprises and schools. Since public schools and universities are still closed until March, and foreign students might be in their home countries, online classes have become the new norm.
Of course we couldn’t stay behind, so using the latest in AI technology, we proudly launched our Hutong School app. Combining a vast library of videos and exercises with a user-friendly online classroom and booking system, our app allows you to do anything from attending live classes to revising vocabulary for your next HSK exam.
Inventive ways to inform people
With China’s digital ecosystem, it’s no wonder that a wealth of information is disseminated online. Tencent’s WeChat quickly added a 医疗健康 ‘Health’ section where users can not only check the latest infection numbers on a real-time map, but also look for a doctor, see which neighborhoods in your area have been affected and get advice on where to buy masks. Alipay isn’t staying behind, having pretty much the same functionalities on its app, with a slightly heavier focus on providing medicines.
Digital surveys to track where people have been on which flight or train are also widely used, either issued by the government or through text messages. Although it may seem a bit invasive with regards to privacy, it’s recognized that this spread of information is all done for the greater good. As we’ve seen from our first blog, everyone is very committed to do his or her part in preventing further infections and helping out where possible.
In general, although the epidemic has a huge impact on international trade and the manufacturing industry, this situation also shows the clear benefits for China’s digital and online ecosystem. Since many companies and industries already made the switch, this enabled the Chinese to quarantine themselves while still being able to work and eat. A modern epidemic indeed.
Stay tuned to see how these measures have impacted millions of individuals across the country in our third and final post.