By Charlotte McEleny, Asia Editor

June 30, 2020 | 6 min read

As one of China’s biggest e-commerce brands, found itself in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic with consumer need for its products and services growing during the lockdown. However, the retailer stuck to a guiding principle that it would only do anything if it created value.

The company has also witnessed major shifts in consumer behaviour throughout each part of the pandemic, from the initial stages and lockdown to a return to normal after. senior manager, global corporate affairs Ella Kidron, explains that the items people bought followed a distinct pattern as the pandemic progressed.

“We have looked at consumption and the structure of consumption throughout. At the beginning of the epidemic, a huge portion of people's consumption would be spent on medical needs, prevention or anti-epidemic prevention materials. Then if you go a little bit further in, there was definitely a spike in fresh produce, meat and vegetables.

"As the epidemic started to ease in China, we got a spike in purchases outdoor supplies, which signifies that things might be getting better. After the lockdown, especially in the epidemic Epicenter, we saw a lot more installation of home appliances."

Kidron believes the spike in home appliances is indicative of the fact that people wouldn’t have been able to buy these prior to the lockdown lifting because they wouldn’t have been able to have them installed.

From a demographic perspective, Kidron says younger generations bought a lot more grocery items and larger household purchases, which showed that they were taking on the responsibility of shopping for their families.

Likewise, there was more shopping from lower-tier regions and cities, which may have been because people stayed at home with families, rather than returning back to the major cities where they worked.

One of the major areas ended up adding value to Chinese people during the pandemic tied directly to these consumer behaviour trends. A product the company launched in late 2019, digital health service JD Health, suddenly found a huge audience as people sought medical advice online.

“JD Health was actually launched online at the end of last year as a medical consultant, like an internet hospital. What happened in the pandemic is that there were a lot of people with different questions, whether it was concerns around whether they had coronavirus, or to differentiate the symptoms of the common cold, or how to maintain a chronic disease when you can't get to the hospital.

"The role the online consulting services played was when people couldn't get to the doctor or when they had immediate questions as they could rely on the service. We have also been offering it for free throughout the entirety of the pandemic."

While some of the projects launched in the past six months perfectly correlated alongside consumer trends and needs, the role of the company was also to find ways in which it could spark new behaviours, particularly for its brand partners.

One of the best examples of this is the launch of its virtual clubbing service, which brought DJ talent from Taihe Music Group to users via a live steam, all the while promoting its alcohol brand partners to the audience via e-commerce. It’s a project that was born purely because of the pandemic but Kidron says it’s become a permanent fixture even post-lockdown.

“You could dance around in your living room if you want but the stream allows the brand to come in throughout the entire session to introduce different liquor products and sell them with a discount. What's great about that is it gives the brand an opportunity to introduce themselves tell a little bit more of their brand story. In the virtual scenario that's very much how you'd encounter such a brand offline.

“This was something to address the pandemic and the fact that clubs and bars are closed, that people are bored, but because it was so popular, it's become one of the mainstays for us in the liquor department,” she adds.

Kidron and’s lessons from throughout the pandemic may have been based entirely on Chinese consumers experiences but the trends towards e-commerce, live streaming and the digitisation of services are all global trends.

Kidron spoke with APAC publisher Charlotte McEleny as part of The Drum’s Can-Do Festival, an online event celebrating the positive energy, innovation and creative thinking that can make the marketing community such a powerful force for good. You can watch the interview in full here.

Sign up to watch forthcoming sessions and see the full Can-Do schedule here.

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