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Small shops back in business in China as COVID-19 pandemic wanes

(People's Daily Online)    10:55, May 13, 2020

Small shops have begun reopening across China as various cities in the country lower their emergency response levels to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) following the effective control of the outbreak.

Citizens have dinner in a restaurant in Wuhan. (Photo/Zhou Wen)

“Bubble tea and barbecues have come back,” said some Internet users, while others celebrated for other reasons: “Finally, I don’t have to cut my own hair anymore.”

With corner shops opening their doors again, and supermarkets, convenience stores, diners, delis, barber shops, laundries, and real estate agencies resuming business, cities are gradually seeing a return to their previous vitality.

According to a recent report on how China’s small shops fared during this year’s May Day holiday, 8 million small shops in the country recorded higher incomes than they did in the same period last year.

More than 5 million shops brought in twice the revenues of the May Day holiday of the previous year, according to the report released on May 6 by China’s leading payment platform Alipay.

Data from Alipay also indicated that 90 percent of nighttime economic activities of small shops had recovered by the recent May Day holiday, and that more than half of the small shops said their business hours had been significantly extended, with over 10 percent of shops seeing an extension in business times of more than 6 hours.

China currently has about 83.3 million registered individually-owned businesses which employ more than 200 million people, as shown by data from the country’s State Administration for Market Regulation.

A report released by Alipay at the end of 2019 revealed that the number of small shops in China, including online shops, corner shops, and roadside stalls, came to around 100 million. These shops provided jobs for 300 million people, according to the report.

Developing small shops was included in the topics of executive meetings of the State Council of China at the end of 2019.

Targeted policies and measures should be rolled out to help with development of small shops in order to create more job opportunities and form a group of popular, characteristic pedestrian streets that showcase the country’s cultural heritage, according to a State Council executive meeting held on Dec. 30, 2019.

In March, the State Council issued guidelines on implementing measures to boost employment stability in response to the impact of COVID-19. They specified that the development of small shops and pedestrian streets with strong job-creation capacity should be taken as important conditions in various evaluation programs.

Some cities have adjusted their development concepts according to the guidelines, and made good achievements in terms of featured pedestrian streets that boost the economy.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the country has launched a series of policies and measures aimed at helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) tide over their difficulties.

China has introduced policies granting a three-month rental exemption to small and micro businesses and individually–owned businesses that have rented state-owned property.

The country has also increased cuts in added-value tax for small and micro businesses and individually-owned businesses.

In addition, the country has granted nearly 2.9 trillion yuan ($401.8 billion) of low-cost loans to SMEs, micro businesses, and individually-owned businesses.

Moreover, China’s leading online private commercial bank MYbank has initiated a “contactless loan” project along with organizations including the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce to help SMEs and micro businesses.

The project is expected to provide a one-month interest-free loan for 360,000 corner shops, small and micro businesses, and individually-owned businesses in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the city hit hardest in the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to support from the government, owners of small shops across the country have tried their best to seek opportunity in crisis over the past few months, with many eyeing digital transformation to bring about a quick recovery.

Efforts to launch take-out services and products and join online delivery platforms have proven particularly beneficial and effective for many shop owners in the country.

After shifting focus to online platforms, one shop owner surnamed Ruan managed to increase the number of orders by up to 15 times in February.

“Take-out services have helped a lot during the epidemic prevention and control as people have been advised to make fewer trips outside,” said a shop owner surnamed Zhang, who saw a significant increase in the number of online orders during the special period.

“There were only 10,000 small shops that joined Eleme in the last year, while the number of small shops that started to use our services for shops increased by 50,000 during the epidemic,” said Lin Xiaohai, vice president of Alibaba Group and general manager of Alibaba’s LST platform.

Despite the current difficulties, 90 percent of small shops in China are confident in their future operations, while more than half of these shops plan to expand, increase their budgets, or continue with their business in a steady manner, according to Alipay’s survey of small shops during the past May Day holiday.

The COVID-19 pandemic will help accelerate the digitalization of China’s service sector, said Hu Xiaoming, CEO of Ant Financial, stressing that 80 percent of the country’s businesses in the service industry have not yet undergone digital transformation, which means there is huge room for development.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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