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Last order: How online store selling urns deals with death

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-08-16 17:42

Comforting someone who has lost a near and dear one is never easy. Now imagine comforting a total stranger and that too on the internet. But that's what Chen Xiaoxiao did after a customer placed an order for an urn with her company online.

Chen's husband Yang Sheng had packed the last order of the day in a warehouse that had no air-conditioning on a humid fall day in Jinhua, Zhejiang province.

Yang and Chen, a couple, are one of the millions of online vendors on Taobao.com of Alibaba Group.

They have heard 2,709 stories about death while selling 2,709 urns in three years of running the online store.

Chen has her own story. That's when she met her husband.

Chen's mother passed away three years ago in a small village in Zhejiang. Chen went online and bought a nice urn to show her respect to her late mother as the urns in the village were not of good quality.

Yang was the boss of the online shop. Yang knew that if he delivered the urn through courier it won't reach in time as the village was too remote. So he did the next best thing: He decided to deliver it himself.

When he went to her village to deliver the urn, he met her and they started to know about each other. Later they got married. Chen said she discovered that there were many people like her who were looking for nice urns. So she and her husband decided to turn the online story a full-time business.

But it is a lonely business.

In the three years, the couple hasn't made one new friend and even tried not to meet old friends. No one knows what they do except their parents.

"It's not a business people will be comfortable with. It's a taboo. We don't want to upset anyone by talking about it."

Chen said she tells people they are painting sellers if anyone asks. But she is in touch with her former colleagues. "They ask me to send links to them as they want to buy things from me to help me out financially. How can I send links of urns to them?"

They maintain a simple lifestyle. Besides work, workout and watching TV are the only activities they have time for. But that's not the toughest part.

The common sales pitches are definitely a big no in their line of business. "Welcome back", "See you again", "Please spread the word about our products" are absolutely no-no.

To avoid any missteps, she even deleted all the emojis from her phone and computer except the "handshake" one.

"When the customer becomes emotional, we shake hands; when they're satisfied with the products, we shake hands; when they thank us, we shake hands," Chen said. One emoji for all.

"It's not an easy business," Chen said. "My phone is on 24/7 for 365 days. There's sad story behind every order. We need to listen to their needs, feel their pain and comfort them."

The couple's online shop has 642 comments, behind which are the stories of deep love and tears.

A woman from Anhui province picked the most expensive urn from the shop for her late husband believing her choice will satisfy him even as he was a picky person.

She said using her husband's online account to pick the urn felt like he's picking it himself. "He will be happy about it. And this will be the last order from this account, thank you," the woman told Chen.

A college student from Guangzhou, Guangdong province, tried to buy a nice urn for her grandfather as she was raised by him since she's an orphan.

She worked as courier for restaurant during holidays to make money but still didn't have enough. Chen was so touched that she sold the urn to her for half price.

Chen still remembers an old man who called them as he wanted to buy an urn for himself since his children did not take care of him. He was worried that nobody will give him a proper burial so he tried to prepare the last journey himself.

But he didn't know how to order online, so Chen taught him the whole process step by step on the phone. "He told us not to deliver the urn to his home as he did not want his children to find out. It's just sad," Chen said.

Chen said they can't make miracle for every person to live forever, but she can offer them last resting place. "This order is the last order they put in this world, we don't want to fail them."

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