It has now been over a month since the city of Wuhan was locked down and the world learned about the coronavirus COVID-19. As the extraordinary measures continue in Wuhan and other cities such as Harbin, and cases outside of China accelerate, the risk is far from over. Yet there are some positive signs that much of China is returning to relative normality – albeit wearing face masks.
On Sunday, 24 provincial-level regions, including Beijing and Shanghai, reported no new cases. Whilst more than 100 million internal migrant workers are yet to return to their jobs, many regions are easing curbs and restoring workplaces. Some cities are going as far as flying, bussing and training workers back from their hometowns to get the wheels turning again. More than 90% of workers in Zhejiang province, and over 70% in Guangdong and Jiangsu are back on the tools. At a personal level, we are now allowed back in our Skinny HQ in Shanghai, except those who haven’t yet completed the 14-day self-quarantine. With most workers back, many of the key frustrations of foreign brands selling in China, such as stalled logistics and holdups at the ports, are likely to diminish daily.
The mass-closures of retailers also looks to be thawing. Apple has reopened more than half of its retail stores and Uniqlo has added 100, Lululemon has reopened stores, in addition to other retailer re-openings. As this video illustrates, plenty of people are leaving the confines of their apartment to get their shopping done. They’re all positive developments, but the telltale sign that everything is okay will be when China’s precious children are allowed back to school.
The Chinese word for crisis is 危机 (Wéijī) – the first character, 危, means ‘dangerous’, and the second character 机, ‘opportunity’. This holds true to crises inside and out of China. JD started selling online during SARS, Disney came into being during the Great Depression, and a host of other companies from Microsoft to GM began during challenging times. We’re yet to see if budding new enterprises will arise from the aftermath of the coronavirus, but we have seen a major new feature from WeChat start to ramp up – Channels.
People often ask us ‘what will be the next WeChat?’ Although short video isn’t a substitute for the omnipresent all-in-one app, it is certainly eroding time spent on WeChat and the subsequent advertising revenue. The parent company of Douyin, ByteDance, now earns more in advertising revenue than Tencent’s WeChat, QQ, gaming and other apps combined. Although WeChat has been moving into the commerce space, with sales on mini programs now half of JD’s turnover, tapping into the ever-more-popular short videos has been elusive.
The timing of WeChat Channels launch couldn’t have been more appropriate given the soaring popularity of short video for house-bound Chinese over the past month. While still in ‘testing’ stage, Channels may add a new dimension to integrated WeChat marketing channels and is worth considering while it’s still in its infancy. Never a better time to seize the opportunity? Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.