How SARS led to the birth of China ecommerce

by Azoya

This article was originally released by CHARGED.

As the coronavirus crisis in China surpasses over 20,000 infected patients, international ecommerce solutions proivder Azoya looks back at the 2003 SARS crisis to understand how the retail industry adapted to worsening market conditions.

Many will remember that over 8,000 people were infected by SARS, and nearly 800 perished. Schools, factories, and shops were closed, and China’s bustling cities quickly turned into ghost towns.

While the fatality rate of the current coronavirus is much lower at ~2-3%, the total number of cases have far surpassed that of SARS and continues to spread rapidly. It is uncertain how long this crisis will last, as SARS tapered off over the course of a few months.

But in times of crisis there are always opportunities. We take a look at the challenges Alibaba and faced in 2003 and how they overcame them, back in the early years of China’s nascent internet industry. and SARS

In 2003 e-commerce was just starting to emerge in China. After all, not many people had access to the internet. Alibaba was primarily a B2B platform, connecting US buyers with Chinese suppliers. was a chain of small electronics shops that launched an online e-commerce site. At the time, Richard Liu’s business had just 12 offline stores in Beijing, mostly hawking electronics such as CDs and camcorders. He had plans to expand to >500 stores and become the Gome of electronics. But business plummeted during SARS and the founder had to close all but one of his stores to conserve resources. He also resorted to selling goods by posting in QQ groups and college BBS forums.

At the time e-commerce was relatively primitive. Employees had to manually jot down orders and send text messages to customers when orders had been shipped. Employees personally delivered orders to customers who were close to the office.

Read the full article by visiting CHARGED.