Homeworking and lockdowns caused a rapid rise in e-commerce as global consumers, denied access to shopping malls and high street stores, turned to online shopping, some for the first time.
In China, e-commerce was already riding high before the pandemic but, according to forecasts by research group eMarketer, some 52.1% of the country’s retail sales will come from e-commerce in 2021, up from 44.8% a year prior.
Alibaba has been at the centre of China’s e-commerce growth, not just selling goods but transporting them through its Cainiao Smart Logistics Network subsidiary.
Cainiao’s stated mission is for 24 hours delivery to anywhere in China and 72 hours to anywhere globally.
Key milestones achieved so far include more than 3,000 logistics partners, processing 16trn pieces of logistics data every day, and transporting 250m items of PPE during the pandemic to 159 countries.
James Zhao, general manager, Cainiao global supply chain, joined the business in 2014 after 12 years in a number of product and marketing management roles at eBay, FedEx, and TravelSky.
As a platform business, Cainiao does not own nor operate any aircraft but instead works with airline partners: “We have always had air cargo service via our global logistics network,” says Zhao.
Recent examples of that close collaboration have seen Cainiao link up with Hong Kong Air Cargo to launch cargo flights to Southeast Asia, and with Saudia Cargo for services from Hong Kong to Liege in Belgium.
It is also establishing seven “eHubs” at — or close to — airports where it can quickly carry out consolidation, transhipment and other activities to keep cargo travelling at speed.
At the time of the HK Air Cargo deal, Zhao said: “As one of the fastest-growing e-commerce markets in the world, Southeast Asia is projected to achieve a 23% compound annual growth rate to reach $172bn in 2025.”
He added: “With more cross-border e-commerce goods moving from Mainland China to…