Business / Technology

Undeveloped west China joins Singles' Day shopping spree

(Xinhua) Updated: 2015-11-12 10:08

XINING - Smartphone in hand, Tibetan villager Zhoima stayed up late on Tuesday, waiting for the start of the 24-hour online shopping extravaganza known in China as Singles' Day.

When the clock struck midnight, she raced to pay for the dozens of items in her shopping cart. "You have to be quick or the stuff may sell out, since the goods on special offer are usually in limited supply. I don't want to let people down," she said, referring to the many locals who entrust Zhoima to help them buy things online.

Singles' Day eclipses its US equivalents Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba took 10 billion yuan ($1.57 billion) within the first 12 minutes and 28 seconds of Wednesday.

While most of this spending comes from China's affluent east coast, the Internet shopping craze is steadily reaching western areas like Tibet, where infrastructure has historically been weak and many people lack computer literacy.

Zhoima's home of Changjiangyuan on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is dominated by Tibetan herdsmen. Though over 90 percent of the villagers have Internet access, around half of them have never bought anything online.

"Many do not know how to link their bank accounts to online payment platforms. Some of the elderly do not speak Mandarin so have even more difficulty using the Internet," said Zhoima, one of the few university graduates in Changjiangyuan.

"I've been especially busy with the approach of Singles' Day, as more people have come to my house hoping to line up things to buy when they go on promotion. My shopping cart on has been stuffed with all kinds of things, from clothes and shoes to daily necessities and phones."

Cering, head of Changjiangyuan's Communist Party of China committee, said online shopping has gained local popularity quickly in the past two years. "The infrastructure here has been improving, and most families now have access to the Internet. Under the influence of young people, seniors and young children are also becoming interested in online shopping."

Aside from the public being able to get their shopping fix, officials have high hopes that rising e-commerce can boost the economy. National leaders have pinned their hopes on consumer spending as China's traditional drivers of exports and manufacturing slow. Local leaders are excited about the extra jobs that more businesses will create and want farmers to use online retail to improve their livelihoods.

Cering is trying to help herdsmen open online stores to sell beef and mutton to more far-flung buyers. "Here, a whole sheep sells for about 400 yuan, but in nearby Golmud City, just one kg of mutton goes for over 30 yuan," he explained.

Alibaba predicts rural Chinese will spend more than 460 billion yuan online in 2016, a massive rise from 180 billion yuan in 2014. The company is hungrily eyeing the huge potential, but much work needs to be done in promotion and developing a network of delivery depots and transport capable of covering remote and mountainous Tibet.

"Most delivery firms cannot reach our village. Sometimes, we have to go into town to get our packages, which usually takes about 40 minutes by bus," Zhoima said.

Zhaxi, from Menyuan Hui autonomous county in Qinghai province, runs an online store selling dairy produce, beef jerky and honey.

"Generally, an e-retailer will see its daily sales grow by over 50 percent on Singles' Day, but that will not happen to mine. Most of our customers are regulars; our brand is still unknown to most people and the inconvenient logistics here make our products less competitive," he said.

An official from the Qinghai commerce department who would only give her surname, Xue, said, "E-commerce in the west is still in its infancy. Many parts, especially those at high altitude, are scarcely populated, so it is not really cost-effective to set up logistics centers there."

Both governments and companies are trying to improve the situation.

Earlier this year, two ministries issued special funds to help Qinghai develop e-commerce in the countryside by building more delivery depots, improving transport and cultivating local brands.

Alibaba and rival have also been extending their reach.

Last year, Alibaba signed contracts with the western regions of Xinjiang and Gansu to help local farmers do business online, while last month opened a logistics center in a Qinghai county that has an average altitude of 2,500 meters.

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