Is Hema Fresh’s “mobile supermarket” the answer to food shortages in a sealed-off Shanghai?

20 April is set to be a “turning point” for the Omicron-hit Shanghai, as local authorities vow to “eliminate COVID outside quarantine areas, or to achieve a goal of “zero COVID”. Despite doubts, the news arrived as promised, with the local government announcing two of the city’s 16 districts have achieved this after a consecutive decline in positive cases in the last three days.

Businesses, such as the American automotive manufacturer Tesla, have been resuming production after a three-week shutdown. However, as the country’s financial hub largely remains under a draconian lockdown, more than 25 million local residents have not seen a turning point in their restrained life, in particular, the daily fight for food continues.

Such an indefinite, stressful situation has also been testing businesses and institutions, not just the act of taking social responsibility but also their ability to innovate in dealing with challenges they have never encountered before.

On the other hand, China’s tech giants have been seen to be optimising their logistic technology to enable a more efficient human-being-free food distribution. Most recently, Hema Fresh, China’s online grocery giant under Alibaba, has introduced the concept of a ‘mobile supermarket’, which is expected to ease the city’s food supply pressures.

It is reported that the initial launch of this mobile service will involve four local Hema Fresh membership stores, serving neighbourhoods within 10 kilometres around the shop with up to 1,500 products available to all shoppers regardless of their membership status. Meanwhile, prices of all items will be guaranteed at the same level as before lockdown, ensuring the service does not take advantage of the desperate situation of consumers.

In addition, it is also understood that the service is provided for group purchases only. Orders can be placed by a community group buying leader, or ‘Tuan Zhang’ in Chinese, the person coordinating food orders on behalf of buyers in a certain residential compound, which has become commonplace in China to improve the efficiency of food distribution during a local lockdown.

These orders will then be delivered collectively twice a week by Hema Fresh itself without extra cost. Therefore, it relieves the worries of locals who are concerned that their daily meal plans will be disrupted due to the city’s overstretched delivery service which is reported to have pushed delivery charges up to some 100 RMB ($15.6) per order causing a surge in online shopping.


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