The social and economic reality of the global coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is only starting to really hit home for many but over the weekend China started to lift its social restrictions as the number of new locally transmitted cases slowed.
It is still early days, even for China, as to whether life will be entirely back to normal, with some sceptical that a push to economic normality is hasty. Even with social distancing being lifted, two-months in lock-down could mean that consumer behaviours have changed and a new, more digital, normal is left in place.
As such major brands and technology firms in China are starting to launch major efforts to re-boost the economy and help brands get in front of consumers once again.
Shanghai Fashion Week (SHFW) is due to start today but instead of going ahead with events, the shows will be live-streamed to a wider audience via a partnership with Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao live. The event will show more than 150 brands, including Diane von Furstenberg and rising Chinese independent designers such as Shushu/Tong and Angel Chen, between 24-30 March 2020.
The partnership aims to help independent designers and brands swap out more traditional means of communicating with audiences, for example, press conferences or shows, which would have been the route to market before the virus hit. Alibaba is using the partnership to promote a new ‘suite’ of products that allow brands to fully digitise this process.
Mike Hu, general manager of Tmall Fashion and FMCG at Alibaba, said: “We have integrated some of Alibaba’s most advanced technologies to bring a new and elevated experience to consumers. This partnership with SHFW allows us to leverage our experience in digitizing brick-and-mortar retail stores and explore a new format for brand and product launches, bringing together technologies like live-streaming, short-form videos, DingTalk and Tmall Flagship Store 2.0 in a full-chain solution,” he added.
Elsewhere, rival China e-commerce platform JD.com has announced a raft of initiatives and budgets towards helping boost activity for brands again in terms of marketing and promotion in China.
Earlier this month, JD.com announced ‘Spring Raindrop Plan’, which will allocate RMB 1.5 billion worth of its resources to brands that were heavily impacted by Covid-19. It said it would be offering flash sales, live streaming, coupons, PLUS membership and content marketing to support its merchants. Much like Alibaba, JD.com has also opened up its omnichannel services to help brick-and-morter stores get online.
This week, in addition to the ‘Spring Raindrop Plan’, JD.com announced a collaboration with brands to release RMB1.5 billion worth of promotional coupons to consumers in China. The idea is that the coupons will help increase demand and resume sales volumes at a quicker pace.
A spokesperson for the brand said in the announcement, “The new initiative also demonstrates that the fight against Covid-19 has entered a new stage. As people recover from the epidemic, the need to increase consumer demand to support China’s domestic economy has come to light.”
In terms of travel, travel data co-op Adara has found that the number of searches relating to people looking to travel to China has increased after a severe dip after the Coronavirus started to spread.
According to Adara, in the past two weeks, it has seen an uptick in the number of searchers. Global unique searchers were up 29% for the week of 8 March 2020, compared to the week of 1 March 2020. It said actual flight bookings are also increasing but at a slower rate. In terms of people travelling from China elsewhere, the numbers of booking aren't yet increasing but Adara has seen a small uptick in the number of flight searches from Chinese travellers.
Countries that are now facing unprecedented levels of disruption as they self-isolate or go into lockdowns, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, will be looking to the example set in China as a beacon of hope for what’s waiting on the other side.
If one thing seems clear from China’s new normal, it is that digital technology has forced a larger place in people’s lives, with live-streaming and e-commerce the new normal.