‘Contactless’ economy booms amid epidemic


With only around 15 books sold per day and half of them purchased by employees, OWSpace recently released a letter on social media platform WeChat seeking crowdfunding to support its operation. "Only one of our four bookstores has resumed operation and the customer flow was just 10 percent of normal levels," said Wu Yanping, general manager of the business department from OWSpace, a Chinese bookstore chain, reports Xinhua/UNB.

The crowdfunding, which offers donors online shopping coupons and membership to online communities in return, established a contactless channel for readers to express their support while eliminating the risk of virus infection.

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic, brick and mortar businesses such as bookstores have faced great challenges, as such confined spaces with people gathering together are usually considered to have high risks of virus transmission.

The SARS virus that infected thousands in China back in 2003 is widely seen as a catalyst for the country's fledgling e-commerce industry. Nearly two decades later, as the coronavirus outbreak put dozens of residential communities and areas on lockdown, contactless services backed by 5G technology and Internet of Things are helping people battle the epidemic.

Huanggang, a coronavirus-hit city in Hubei Province, has launched a telemedicine 5G-based platform capable of facilitating remote consultations, remote imaging, ultrasound and electrocardiogram diagnoses for 14 designated hospitals fighting COVID-19.

A supermarket with a self-checkout system that allows payment without contact was constructed in Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan, selling daily necessities for constructors and medics. While people were confined to their homes, tech giants in China were exploring innovative ways to help people live their lives in a contactless fashion.

Many delivery and courier firms including Meituan Dianping encouraged "non-contact delivery" to reduce contagion risks, with the deliverymen putting orders in a self-collection container or a pre-determined place. Fast-food companies such as KFC and Pizza Hut have also rolled out similar services.

Internet companies such as NetEase recently opened a full chain of contactless recruitment through online resume submission and online interviews. The candidates can also sign contracts, attend training workshops, and even begin work over the Internet. Amid the epidemic, more consumers are choosing non-contact shopping. Various automobile retailers offered VR and livestreaming services to attract potential buyers staying indoors and allow them to select a car without visiting dealerships in person.

Many museums and galleries in China have also been closed to visitors, but they have launched or repackaged various online exhibitions to provide a satisfactory touring experience for the country's vast number of stay-at-home visitors.

In terms of the long-term impact of the contactless services on the economy, it is far too early to draw any conclusions, but efforts and inspirations can be seen as people are adapting to this lifestyle to continue pursuing their goals and dreams. "The sudden boom of contactless businesses is not a one-time boost, instead, it will develop into sustainable growth," said Liu Xiaoyun, professor of Anhui University.

International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasted that the COVID-19 outbreak will bring opportunities for online classrooms and education, remote offices and online activities, 5G industry applications, unmanned commerce and services, and fresh food e-commerce in relation to the accelerating rise of contactless businesses and services.

The Ministry of Commerce encouraged the innovative business model that sprung up during the epidemic, which showed new trends of informatization, high quality, convenience and convergence in the development of the service industry.

The country has also extended the use of 5G technology in the ongoing battle against the epidemic. China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has urged telecom companies to optimize construction plans of the 5G network and fully utilize its role in stabilizing investments and spurring the development of the related industrial chain.

Since China became the world's digital power, it was not unusual for those that relied on brick and mortar stores to face challenges. However, such stores, with their more intimate and personal touch, still hold appeal for many people. Those participating in the crowdfunding that OWSpace launched will not only be rewarded with shopping coupons, but will be given the opportunity to join online salons to communicate with guest speakers.

OWSpace is a spirit and lifestyle, and it should bring encouragement and inspiration to more people, said Xu Zhiyuan, one of the founders of the company, in the crowdfunding letter. The donation packages ranging from 50 yuan (about 7.15 U.S. dollars) to 8,000 yuan were expected to save the bookstore from its difficulties.

Since being released, the crowdfunding letter has received over 100,000 hits in less than five days with many readers commenting below saying that they were committed to donating. "Physical book stores should be a meeting and gathering place for members of communities. We have fewer and fewer, and we need them," a reader commented below the letter.