On Jan. 23, 2020, the Chinese government imposed a full lockdown on the City of Wuhan. Eleven million citizens were placed in quarantine and all major highways were blocked. The lockdown would last for 60 days – a duration no one expected at the time of the announcement.
The lockdown posed serious challenges. In a city like Wuhan, the retail sector is like the body’s circulatory system: pumping groceries and everyday supplies through an extensive network into every neighborhood. The lockdown put an instant, hard barrier in the system’s major arteries, cutting off communities from their regular supplies. After a burst of initial panic-buying stripped the shelves bare in local stores, people hunkered down in their apartments, unwilling to risk contamination by going outside, effectively cutting themselves off from access to future supplies.
As businesses and governments around the globe continue to combat the coronavirus crisis, the rapid responses of the Chinese e-commerce giants offer guidance on how digital-savvy retailers capable of accessing mass markets in Europe and the U.S. can play their part in keeping the supply chain flowing. The experience from China suggests that the most valuable contributions will come both from leveraging their digital logistics platforms and their high-tech last-mile delivery capabilities and from quickly engaging newly available workers with transferrable skills from other sectors. Aside from the moral imperative of engaging in this fight, those that do will find themselves well placed to compete in a post-Covid world, not only in terms of goodwill, but also in their strategic competencies and opportunities.