Cyberspace is a big winner during the coronavirus outbreak

Huang Yixuan
The city's promotion of online business strengthens its development.
Huang Yixuan

One “beneficiary” of the coronavirus pandemic has been the online realm. As people were forced to stay indoors, more of them turned to the Internet for shopping, entertainment and social interaction.

In April, Shanghai published an action plan for promoting the development of the online economy, focusing on 12 areas that included health care, financial services, exhibitions and Internet-related industries.

The online economy, given such twin impetus, has forged ahead in areas such as mobile payments, intelligent manufacturing and online-to-offline business integration.

"Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Shanghai has taken the online new economy as an important development direction, fully supporting the growth of the next generation of Internet enterprises as a strong driving force in the city’s economic development," said Zhou Huilin, member of the Standing Committee and director of the publicity department of the Shanghai Committee of the Communist Party of China.

Chen Mingbo, deputy secretary general of the Shanghai government, said "the epidemic has led to the rapid development of the online new economy, while that economy itself has played an important role in the prevention and control of the disease.”

In the first half of the year, Shanghai’s online retail sales totaled 122.7 billion yuan (US$18.36 billion), up 5 percent from a year earlier. Usage of online information surged 50 percent, the online digital content industry expanded 20 percent and information technology bucked the downturn of other sectors with a 10.5 percent jump.

During the recent National Day holiday, online retails sales grew almost 16 percent from a year earlier to almost 36 billion yuan, compared with offline sales growth of about 12 percent to 66 billion yuan.

Chen noted that the city leads the nation in information infrastructure and talented industry professionals.

"Tourism was among the hardest-hit industries from the coronavirus epidemic,” said Sun Jie, chief executive of Trip.com, the largest online travel agency in China. “But in the process, we also saw a lot of new opportunities, with breakthroughs in online searches, online shopping and online consulting services."

During a period when people were asked to avoid contact, the company used the benefits of cloud computing to take armchair tourists to scenic spots.

A live, 17-episode program series created by Trip and leading short-video platform Kuaishou attracted more than 8 million views, with virtual tours to popular places like Hangzhou, Xi'an, Macau, Fuzhou, Malaysia and Canada.

"With people all over the world trapped in their homes, it was a great opportunity for us to develop what might be called the ‘non-contact’ economy,” Sun said.

Dingdong Maicai, a Shanghai-based fresh produce and grocery e-commerce platform, was also a big beneficiary during the epidemic.

The city is now building a “fresh produce e-commerce center,” according to Liu Min, deputy director of the Shanghai Commission of Commerce.

He said the concept is to develop new business models, such as fresh produce e-commerce and community e-commerce, to promote the formation of an online ecosystem for consumers.

Liang Changlin, founder and chief executive of Dingdong Maicai, praised the city’s strong support for online business.

“In the future, Shanghai will build pre-warehouses and cold chains as part of the new infrastructure,” he said. “I believe that people will pay more attention to the safety and quality of fresh produce, and the industry will welcome healthy market competition.

Liu Ping, chief engineer at the Shanghai Commission of Economy and Informatization, said the city has been focused this year on breakthroughs in online businesses related to smart manufacturing, consumerism and services.

The city seeks the construction of 100 “smart” factories with digital production and automated processing. It’s all aimed at securing Shanghai’s reputation as a global export hub of intelligent manufacturing solutions.

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