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With shops shuttered, heroic e-commerce platforms take up slack

By Jamal Branford | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-21 07:55

Since the onset of the novel coronavirus, life has been considerably more difficult for local consumers.

Want to buy face masks or hand sanitizer in stores? This is still very difficult to do, though I have heard reports that some of these items are beginning to reappear in some places.

Want to go out to eat? You can find a needle in a haystack faster than you can find an open restaurant nowadays.

Want to order items for delivery? It seems delivery for goods other than medical supplies takes longer to arrive now.

With so many brick and mortar businesses closed or restricting their hours in my area during the epidemic, online shops have become our heroes.

My water delivery service that I use via WeChat has continued, though I have to haul the 19-liter bottle from the gate of my apartment complex myself since the deliverymen are no longer allowed inside the compound.

In addition, e-commerce platform Baopals has been pretty awesome. Though many of my expat colleagues prefer the more popular Taobao, I prefer Baopals because it offers an English interface. I'm not literate in Chinese yet, and I like to be sure about what I'm buying and what buttons I'm pushing when I'm ordering something. Plus, I can receive assistance in English from its customer service staff if necessary.

Baopals came through for me in a big way recently. I had been worried about running out of masks, especially with authorities pressuring everyone to wear them in public. It's been said that disposable masks should not be reused for health reasons, but what other option do people have if they're out of fresh masks and face criticism for showing their bare faces in public? What else can they do?

As my supply dwindled, I decided to order some online and just prayed that they would arrive in a timely manner.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that I received the masks fairly promptly.

I now have a decent supply, but decided I wanted something even better. So next, I ordered a reusable electronic mask.

That mask arrived even more quickly than the disposable ones did.

Food delivery has also been good as of late. I was disappointed when Sherpa's shut down for a while (full disclosure: it has very recently began offering service again), but I found another platform called JSS that is very similar in terms of its English interface and customer service. It's good to know that there are other reliable options out there.

I want this virus madness to end as much as anyone. It's unfortunate that tasks like going to the bank or enjoyable activities like going out to eat are no longer the norm. And being unable to have items delivered to your doorstep anymore is another annoyance, especially when the items are really heavy. I'll be much happier when things go back to the way they were before the epidemic.

In the meantime, as physical businesses remain shuttered, I'm happy that the virtual ones are keeping their digital doors wide open.

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