Old media needed this wake-up call
merce company successfully riding this tidal wave in China. The company, founded in 1999 by Jack Ma, a former English teacher, said in April that it has overtaken Wal-Mart Store, becoming the world’s largest retailer, having sold merchandise worth 3 trillion yuan in the fiscal year ended in March.
“The shift toward consumption and services is a massive transformation that will drive a new Chinese economy for years to come,” said Alibaba’s vice chairman, Joseph Tsai, in a post on Alizila, a blog the company operates.
The huge growth in online sales has obviously had a flow-on effect that has rippled through the Chinese economy and society generally, creating millions of jobs such as those of online sales assistants, in the express delivery business, and in internet financing and personal credit.
Xiong Yuan, 27, a white-collar worker in Beijing, says she buys almost everything online, including groceries, and pays using funds from Ant Check Later, an internet consumer finance product of Ant Financial Service Group.
“I don’t really need to borrow money, but by doing so and repaying on time I can significantly boost my online credit score.”
The rise of e-commerce companies and others in related industries has reshaped how people spend their money and has piled pressure on traditional retailing, and in some cases the profits of department stores have taken a severe hit, forcing many to close.
In 2014 Dalian Wanda Group, which runs the largest shopping mall network in China, teamed up with the internet giants Baidu and Tencent Holdings in an effort to forestall the dangers that e-commerce poses.
Adam Xu, partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Strategy&, says e-commerce supplants some activities once handled by physical stores, but some activities will still need to be carried out on premises and immediately, such as food service or some complex selling activities.
“Therefore physical retailing will still have its own role (but) a different one. I believe the future of retailing will become multi-channel. Online channels will provide the wide range of choices and flexibility of shopping time while physical stores will provide in-person service and interaction.”
I’ve always had mixed feelings about e-commerce that has increasingly become part of our lives. As a journalist, I enjoy online shopping first and foremost because it generates so many great news ideas as millions of people make purchases every day.
My most recent story on the subject in this newspaper was touched off by an e-retailer’s ad: “Place an order while at work, and take deliveries when you go home”, which prompted me to look at my own and others’ online shopping behavior in the office and beyond, and its implications to employers.
Earlier I wrote about the phenomenon of apps that flooded our cellphones. My Huawei Mate 8 is home to apps for e-malls, restaurants, laundry, golf clubs and other service providers that cater to both my needs and wants.
Almost three decades ago, when I first joined the newspaper as a fresh graduate out of journalism school, I asked Wang Wenlan, a prize-winning photojournalist, for career tips. He thought for a while and said: “Always get yourself a hot meal.”
Those were hard times when journalists would have to munch on snacks if they missed lunch or dinner in the company canteen. But now beef noodles or kung pao chicken with rice is just a tap away.
Even laundry, a dreaded chore for young staff who lived four to a room in the dormitory then, is made easy with an app that allows you to stuff tens of dirty shirts into a large bag until it almost bursts at the seams, for 99 yuan. But on the flip side, e-commerce also has its fair share of issues and problems. The feel is not exactly like in a real store. The takeouts may have been cooked in dirty, unlicensed kitchens. And trust is still hard to come by with occasional fake advertising online and inferior offline support services.
What troubles me most, though, is probably the ethos of the Internet, like risk-taking and innovation, that underpins the success of e-retailers but threatens the livelihood of those in a traditional business, like a newspaper.
I’ve tried to dissect Jack Ma’s rise to fame after his e-commerce company Alibaba completed the largest initial public offering in the New York Stock Exchange’s history. Ma sat twice for the national college entrance exam and only ended up in a third-tier local school. In his characteristic, self-deprecating way, he confessed that if he and his people could be successful, 80 percent of Chinese could be, too.
But let’s face it. While Ma and other Chinese Internet entrepreneurs laugh all the way to the bank, people like us with degrees from top Chinese and foreign universities are still figuring out a way so we won’t lose eyeballs and revenues to tech upstarts too fast.
In my story, I recounted Ma’s confrontation with several burly “thieves” who tried to lift a manhole cover on the road more than 20 years ago. He became an instant hero in Hangzhou, because the pilfering was staged by a local television station to capture residents’ reaction to crimes. The nerdy man was the only one who stood up that night.
There have been many other anecdotes that illustrate Ma’s entrepreneurial traits but determination and risk taking tend to dominate his recipe for success.
Now multimedia convergence is the buzzword in our newsroom, with enthusiastic, internet-enabled colleagues picking up new skills and adopting new operation models. Perhaps the rise of the business foe is not all bad news. What else could get us out of our comfort zone more quickly?