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Pinduoduo, China's largest e-commerce platform for agricultural products, has expanded its online grocery ordering service to most provinces since introducing it in the cities of Wuhan and Nanchang in August.
Duo Duo Maicai, as the grocery feature is called, was introduced in response to the surging demand for buying groceries online following the onset of Covid-19 in the first quarter. The pandemic-related lockdowns forced many households to seek alternative ways to buy their food and essential supplies as brick-and-mortar shops were closed and movements severely restricted.
But even after the coronavirus was brought under control and restrictions were lifted, a survey by GlobalData found that 56% of Chinese consumers were buying food and groceries online more frequently than before the lockdowns.
By 2025, nearly half of China's grocery shopping is expected to take place online, up from 20% currently, according to Goldman Sachs. The online grocery market is projected to reach 7 trillion yuan in five years, the bank said.
"We are seeing sustained consumer behavior post-pandemic and expect a further shifting from wet markets to structured retail, together with multiple models and build-out of cold-chain logistics to drive ongoing online share gains in" the fresh and FMCG categories, Goldman Sachs said in a report.
The boom in online grocery shopping in China is a marked change for a society where going to the local market is woven into the fabric of daily life for many households. But with an increasingly fast pace of life, especially in the bigger cities, more and more consumers are availing themselves of the option to buy their groceries online and picking them up the following day.
Sensing a seismic shift in consumer preference, internet companies have poured resources into catering to this growing need. Other companies that have gone into the online grocery business include Alibaba, Meituan and Didi, the ride-hailing giant.
"We believe that grocery shopping in China is undergoing similar structural changes in consumer behavior that we saw in other sectors a few years ago," Chen Lei, Chief Executive Officer of Pinduoduo, said in the company's post-results conference call on Thursday. "The presumption that most consumers still prefer to go to the wet markets or supermarkets for their daily essentials has been challenged over the past few months."
Pinduoduo reported its first quarterly profit since its IPO in 2018. The company has garnered 731.3 million active buyers in the space of five years, an unprecedented feat for an e-commerce company.
With Duo Duo Maicai, consumers can place their orders before 11 pm each day and pick up their agriculture products the next day from 4 pm onwards at designated pick-up points. Duo Duo Maicai is available as a mini-program and on the main Pinduoduo app.
This trend of "planned consumption" is driving a surge in agricultural sales, which are estimated to double this year to at least 250 billion yuan in GMV on Pinduoduo. The company said earlier this year that GMV from agriculture could surpass 1 trillion yuan in five years.
To ensure that supply can keep up with this increased online demand requires a sophisticated supply chain. China's agricultural supply chain is characterized by small farms, multiple distribution layers, and wastage at various stages. As a result, distribution costs for agricultural products typically account for 40% of the total cost (60% for fresh produce), compared with about 10% in developed economies.
To improve the supply chain efficiency, Pinduoduo has invested in optimizing key areas including logistics, warehousing and delivery. The company has developed a nationwide and regional agricultural logistics system to cater to the different needs of consumers.
In the fast-changing consumer and e-commerce industries in China, companies must stay nimble and cater to their users to survive.
Comparing the shift in grocery shopping habits to the apparel industry five to seven years ago, Chen said: "No one could have imagined then that a significant number of consumers would use online shopping to choose, try out, and return clothes."
"But that's exactly what we are seeing today."