Old me­dia needed this wake-up call

China Daily (Canada) - - E-COMMERCE -

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?


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