How are companies and consumers adapting to the new circumstances?

With China entering the fourth week of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis outbreak and millions of people under quarantine, companies and consumers have started adjusting to the new circumstances.

Some of our observations on how consumers and companies are responding include:

Partial normalization of eCommerce services

From 10th February, large delivery companies (Shunfeng, JD Express, EMS, Zhongtong) resumed their services, in the time leading to a normalization of eCommerce fulfilment. It is estimated that delivery services will have recovered to only 40% of the pre-crisis level by 15th February, and in areas such as Hubei only limited emergency deliveries are allowed.

Increase in total gamers and time spent gaming

According to Quest Mobile, the number of daily active users (DAUs) for Tencent’s PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Honour of Kings increased by 27.5m and 26.5m respectively, with Honor of Kings seeing revenues jump by over 50% YOY and time spent increasing by 20%. Somewhat morbidly, Plague Inc. by Ndemic Creations (where players must infect the whole world with a deadly virus) topped the list of paid games in China’s app stores.

Video consumption, especially short video, continues to surge

Quest Mobile has found that, compared to the same period in 2019, DAUs of short video platforms Douyin  (TikTok internationally) and Kuaishou increased by 42.7m and 42.6m respectively. According to Aurora Mobile (Jiguang), average daily time spent also significantly increased, especially on Douyin (from 69 min to 122 min) and its sister long form video content platform Xigua (from 98 min to 165 min). Views on another long form video platform, MangoTV, increased sharply in the same period (by 151%), while three mainstream video platforms iQiyi, Tencent Video and Youku saw somewhat more moderate growth (11%, 9% and 5% respectively).

Increased usage of news and social apps

Considering the severity of the crisis and fast-paced developments, it is not surprising that people have kept informed by spending a significant time on news and social apps. According to Aurora Mobile, DAUs increased by 31% and time spent surged by almost 50% (from 35 min to 54 min) compared to the same period last year. DAUs of Tencent News and ByteDance-owned Jinri Toutiao also increased (50% and 21%) along with the time spent (50% and 30%).

Education and health apps are also seeing a sharp rise

Shortly after the epidemic outbreak and the schools were closed, China’s Ministry of Education launched a campaign to encourage online tools to avoid disruption (“Classes are suspended, but don’t stop studying” (停课不停学). As a result of this, online education platforms offered free access to the users between 5th  to 22nd Feb, covering 5,000 schools and 10 million students. The number of daily active users and time spent increased by 22% and 30% respectively. The user volume of WeChat’s Mini Program Tencent Health for monitoring the epidemic in China increased 70 times within the past 10 days.

Working remotely leads to boom of productivity apps and cloud-based services

Due to millions of employees being forced to work from home, many businesses are taking their operations online. Productivity apps such as DingTalk and WeChat Work have surged in usage among SMEs, with the former seeing 200 million people using the platform in the week after the  Chinese New Year holiday break, causing a heavy burden on the company’s infrastructure. In order to manage the increased demand, WeChat expanded its capacity for video and audio calls up to 300 participants from an earlier limit of 9. 

Boost in online sales of protective gear and disinfectants, as well as fresh food

eCommerce data company Yimian Data has reported strong sales of protective gear (surgical masks +18,200%; goggles +3,100%) and disinfectants (clothing sanitizer +3,300%, skin disinfectant +2,700%) on Alibaba’s B2C eCommerce platform Tmall between 19th January to 9th  February. According to Aurora Mobile, Alibaba’s O2O retail service Freshippo (Hema) and Jingdong’s Daojia, both known for fresh produce delivery, have seen a sharp user increase (25% and 45% respectively). Sales of fresh produce and meat on Daojia in the same period increased by 450% and 400% respectively.

Life is moving online

Clubs are hosting livestream parties on short video platforms with live DJ performances, with night owls participating and sending out virtual gifts like surgical masks and hand washes. TAXX’s Douyin livestream generated revenue of over RMB 7.28m (US$1m) over 4 hours and reached over 71,000 party-goers during its peak online attendance. Fitness studios and gyms are hosting online workout sessions to keep people moving – online fitness class app PP Sports saw a rise of 513% in usage. Home fitness apps are also seeing boosts in downloads and usage, with popular app Keep jumping from 260th to 79th place on Chinese app stores.

Brands are responding in relevant ways

B2C eCommerce platform Jingdong (JD.com) sent 1 million masks to Wuhan, and electronics company Xiaomi sent 300,000 masks and thermometers. Alibaba-owned O2O retail service Freshippo teamed up with local restaurants to temporarily hire their staff for retail and delivery services. ByteDance-owned short video platform Douyin is encouraging information sharing about COVID-19 and creation of encouragement content to everyone working on the frontlines, while sportswear brand Nike is regularly releasing work out videos and instructions on how to stay fit while indoors.

What should brands consider for marketing and communications during the nCov crisis?

  1. Be sensitive in brand messaging
  2. Focus on direct consumer benefits of your product or service
  3. Consider the higher media consumption during this time as a potential opportunity
  4. Understand the sales conversion challenges with reduced availability and fulfilment
  5. Consider giving back to the community

Visit our WeChat to view last week’s advice and detail on the recommendations for managing communications during this period.

We are providing a weekly update on the impact and implications for this current health crisis. If you have questions or suggestions, please feel free to email us at:

Mark Bowling – CSO PHD China mark.bowling@phdmedia.com or Vladimir Prostran – Group Director Strategic Insights PHD China vladimir.prostran@phdmedia.com