An Iraqi worker wears protective face mask following the coronavirus outbreak, as she shows a mask made at a textile factory in Babylon. As the disease spreads other cities will be on lockdown, which will hurt their economies. World leaders are currently working out ways of keeping their citizens safe and healthy. Photo: Essam al-Sudani/Reuters
An Iraqi worker wears protective face mask following the coronavirus outbreak, as she shows a mask made at a textile factory in Babylon. As the disease spreads other cities will be on lockdown, which will hurt their economies. World leaders are currently working out ways of keeping their citizens safe and healthy. Photo: Essam al-Sudani/Reuters

Tech has a big role to play in fight against coronavirus

By Wesley Diphoko Time of article published Feb 28, 2020

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CAPE TOWN – The deadly coronavirus, which is currently spreading like wildfire, is a headache for business leaders.  

The challenge with coronavirus is it’s not just Wuhan, China, and some Italian towns that might need to be on  lockdown, in an effort to quarantine the epicentre of an outbreak of coronavirus, but other countries as well.

As the disease spreads other cities will be on lockdown, which will hurt their economies. World leaders are currently working out ways of keeping their citizens safe and healthy. 

The Chinese community has by default been forced to come up with ways of surviving. One of those survival tactics is the use of e-commerce.

The coronavirus has created a boon for e-commerce, as shoppers stuck at home bought their goods online. Sales of fresh food on JD.com, which is partly-owned by Tencent, jumped 215 percent to almost 15 000 tons in the period to February 2.

The outbreak has also triggered online sales of provisional supplies from would-be shoppers concerned about keeping their families safe from a viral outbreak, including brands selling immune-boosting products. 

Online sales of disinfectant produced by the Reckitt Benckiser-owned Dettol rose 643 percent year-on-year between February 10 and February 13 on the Chinese e-commerce business Suning.com.

The unintended consequences of the outbreak is changing the way businesses operate from less consumers visiting brick-and-mortar stores and instead turning to purchasing goods online, with the increased demand placing pressure on e-commerce platforms. 

Executives from Procter & Gamble (P&G) told shareholders last week that the coronavirus was putting pressure on its e-commerce business. 

As sales from stores that sell P&G’s products slide, with many either closed or open for shorter periods of time, the demand has moved online, said P&G’s chief financial officer, Jon Moeller, at a Consumer Analyst Group of New York event. While the demand for products was there, the supply of them was limited, he said. The move to online business has even led traditional businesses that don’t trade online to also serve their customers online. 

Chinese car manufacturer Geely has recently launched a service that lets customers buy its cars online and get them delivered to their homes.

This trend to e-commerce is likely to gain traction in other countries where the coronavirus has been declared. E-commerce will never be the same after coronavirus as it changes the way consumers interact.

As South Africa prepares itself for the possibility of the outbreak reaching its shores preparations will have to go beyond health. If the coronavirus does reach South African shores, businesses will have to be ready for the likely impact of changes in consumer behaviour. 

If the Chinese experience is anything to go by, every business that seeks to survive will have to develop an e-commerce strategy and implement it soon. Such a plan will also require implementation across society. 

Government departments will  need to come up with ways of serving citizens without face to face interaction. Online government platforms will have to be ready to offer necessary services for citizens.

Coronavirus will bring an end to many lives and also inspire online interaction between people and institutions at a scale we’ve never seen before.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-in-Chief of Fast Company magazine. You can reach him on Twitter via @WesleyDiphoko

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