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During the pandemic, the Chinese Government imposed very stringent lockdown restrictions and everything came to a standstill. However, due to the Chinese culture (everyone do their part for the society, sacrifice for the greater good), people embraced the restrictions. And because of how digital is ingrained in our lives, we were able to alleviate the disruptions and ease the transition into lockdown.
It’s likely the West will continue to benefit from increased digitisation post-Lockdown, just how it is adopted remains to be seen, but this is what we’re seeing in China.
The fact that digital/social media is ingrained in our work life has eased the adjustment to working from home and working with Clients remotely during the pandemic and, now, emerging from the pandemic. Although we have been back at work in the office since mid March, the practice of working with Clients remotely is still going strong. We have even participated in a major pitch remotely, from receiving the RFP to pitch presentation without once meeting the Client face to face.
Within our Agency, staff were already accustomed to communicating with Clients through their personal WeChat accounts, and being added to project group chats. Whether this would catch on in the UK is questionable, as there’s a more distinct line between work and private life.
Chinese companies were also able to use their corporate WeChat platform for staff to clock in and out while working from home, apply for leave, communicate internally, have video conference, etc.
For some of our B2B clients, marketing budgets for face to face events is being channelled into digital initiatives as events/exhibitions are still disallowed and inter-province travel is difficult. In place of these, Clients are looking into live streaming and webinars instead. Live streaming, in B2C as well as B2B, was already popular before the pandemic and we’ve noticed that more companies are employing live streaming to market and sell products after the pandemic. We expect that this trend will continue even when events/exhibitions are back. So it’s likely that we’ll see real developments in the tech behind digital conferences and webinars, improving UX, accessibility and how delegates and exhibitors engage.
In China, as in the west, most companies were focused on communicating support and empathy when the virus was at its peak. As China begins to recover, customer confidence is increasing and sales are starting to bounce back, with many shoppers effectively making up for lost time. With lockdown restrictions lasting longer and being more widespread in the UK, people may not have the disposable income to make such a quick return to spending. Still, recovery phase is likely to present an opportunity for brands to return to a more sales driven strategy, with E-commerce remaining key.
In China, traditional retail businesses were forced to go online during the pandemic to survive. While online sales will not make up for the loss of in-store sales, they are a good channel diversification strategy while physical stores are closed. Emerging from the pandemic, these businesses will emerge stronger through the expansion of their online operations. The likes of IKEA, BMW and Prada have launched outlets on Chinese digital shopping platform Tmall; similar digital platforms like Amazon Stores hold real opportunities for brands.
With China well into recovery, B2C brands are looking ahead to shopping holidays, or sales events, as opportunities to make the most of renewed consumer demand. Large influencers are already fully booked so, in the west, brands might consider investing in social strategy to be one step ahead of the competition.
Some progressive B2B brands are also exploring how to employ e-commerce as part of their strategy. For example, we are working with a truck company to offer parts and accessories and after-sales services via e-commerce.
Digital payments started in China about 15 years back and are widely adopted now, used for both online and offline transactions as China moves to an almost total cashless society. Anyone with a mobile phone and a bank account can set up digital payment, and parents can set up digital payment for their children by linking to the parents’ bank account or putting money into their children’s payment account.
E-commerce sales made up 20% of total retail sales in China in 2019 and it is growing. Sale of fresh food (fresh vegetables, meat, etc) on ecommerce has also been gaining traction for the past few years. The pandemic has further boosted the online sales of fresh food and this is likely to continue after the pandemic.
The food delivery ecosystem is well established and almost all food and drink outlets offer delivery. Logistics are in place to deliver orders within an hour, and this remained the case even at the height of the pandemic.
While China’s reliance on digital may have eased the strain on brands and businesses that embraced digital, speed, agility and adaptability have been the fundamentals for survival. We need to be on the look out for changing trends and be prepared to act when the right moment comes.
For more information and advice on the next steps for your brand, or to learn more about Bray Leino’s specialist knowledge of the Asian market, contact Austen Donnellan, Business Development Director.
With 15 years' experience in China, Kay Kin brings to Clients an intimate knowledge of tech, marketing, business strategy and real world limitations to develop innovative solutions that are practical yet revolutionary.