What Brands Can Learn From China’s Handling of COVID-19

As Europe and North America hunkers down amidst the peak of COVID-19’s assault on our part of the world, in Asia people are emerging from their extended quarantine to a new world. SLD’s Managing Director of Asia Pacific, Teddy Ma, who lives in Shanghai, shared his experiences with us about how consumers are responding in China.  

What was the quarantine experience like in China?

It was kind of dramatic! We were all excited with plans for Chinese New Year holidays, imagining we would go home with family. Suddenly the coronavirus comes and we all cancelled our travels and parties and had to stay at home. All the restaurants, cinemas, shopping malls closed, and only supermarkets and grocery stores were open to keep supplying food. I was at home for over 50 days! In the first week, I learned to cook different types of meals and I joined a community volunteer group to help the elderly and isolated people. I started to feel bored in the second week and had to try to find any possible fun things that we could do at home. Now the office is the most attractive place that I want to go and enjoy a cup of coffee!  

How was business affected during two and a half months of quarantine?

During the quarantine period, the retail industry had a very hard time, many small shops and restaurants are facing bankruptcy. Even online shopping also slowed down because the government used logistics to fully support anti-epidemic supplies. Technology tools really helped to make people feel better – we used the WeChat video call function to have parties and every community set up WeChat groups to help support people’s needs and keep positive.  

Now that people are coming out again, what efforts are being taken to support consumer confidence?

Now that we’re going back to the office to work, the government created a very easy app that can be applied to  WeChat, Taobao, Alipay applications. You open the app and it can show your status of health. You can go anywhere by just opening and showing the app, which has a QR code with three colors (Green, Yellow and Red). The app shows your health status: the measurement information is supported by big data. If your code is green that means you’re healthy, and after you do a quick body temperature measurement, you get a pass. This helps to make sure we are not spreading the virus again. 

The government here is responding with policies to reduce the burden to businesses. I think the Chinese people feel the strength of unity after this crisis. 1.3 billion people were isolated, medical workers across the country risked their lives, countless volunteers participated to help others. Because our society was stable and food supply was sufficient, there was no panic.  

How are consumers responding now that they are coming out of their homes again? 

Consumers have not consumed anything other than basic necessities for a long time. People are feeling crazy after so much isolation. So, there is coming a reactive burst of consumption. People had no chance to celebrate Chinese New Year, I think they will go crazy about shopping, partying and travel. 

Right now, the retailers and restaurant owners are trying to stay alive by using technology to serve their neighbourhoods. For example, one of my favorite restaurants uses an application to sell vegetables, meat and semi-finished dishes and delivers them to a special pick-up point to maintain “zero touch” for safety. For banks, most people are keeping all transactions and financial  advice wireless. I’m sure in China there will be a big trend for online business opportunity. And retailers, banks will need to invest in a new model for physical retail space. 

Do you have any advice for brands who are in the midst of the crisis in Europe and North America? 

This provides a great opportunity for brand building. Brands should find out how to meet consumers’ real needs, to look deeper and not just at what is right in front of their eyes. Brands need to give loving care and actively take on social responsibility during the crisis. We also need to think about the far-reaching impact of technology – many Chinese companies used their tech power to play a significant role in people’s safe passage through the epidemic. If brands can support the unity of their community, they will be stronger when this crisis is over.  

At SLD we are very grateful to our team in China and to Teddy for sharing his insights. We hope you find what’s happening in China of interest – we will keep you updated as things evolve.