Apr 21, 2021|

When E-Commerce Reaches Plateau: Pioneer Work of Two JDers on “The Roof of the World”

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Vivian Yang and Yuchuan Wang

Xianfeng Wang and Danhua Nie are two JD.com employees in Tibet. When the company was looking for talent to break the ground for e-commerce development in the “roof of the world”, Wang and Nie immediately jumped on this opportunity with the mission to march onto the market and sow the seed of e-commerce to support the growth of partners and farmers there.

With an area of over 1.2 million square kilometers, Tibet is more than two times the size of France but its population, 3.5 million, is only about 1/20 of France. With longer days and strong UV rays at 4 km altitude on average, Tibet is the home to a lot of unique produce, such as Nyingchi apple, high-land barley, ganoderma (a type of fungi) and Yak meat.

“Challenging transportation infrastructure have made it hard to sell local agricultural products and deliver goods in,” said Wang. “Deliveries from other provinces to Tibet normally take at least 10 days.”

What’s more challenging is the physical impact of the harsh environmental conditions on Wang and Nie. They are originally from Hebei and Jiangxi provinces respectively in China’s plain areas and it is their first time to live in such a high altitude environment. “I felt a huge pressure in my chest and I wasn’t able to breathe freely. My head ached and felt like there was a swarm of bees stinging it,” said Nie. It wasn’t until the third day that the symptoms got weaker.

In Tibet, JD is leveraging its expertise in e-commerce and logistics to enable local people. Wang and Nie are the pioneers. They will focus on different work areas in Tibet based on their respective expertise.

Wang has rich experience in e-commerce operations and cross-team coordination at JD. His first role in the new post is to act as the chief organizer of the Nyingchi Peach Blossom Festival which lasts from Mar. 15 to Apr. 20 this year. To do this, he needed not only to manage all the exhibition and promotional activities offline in the local festival venues but also to pull together JD’s resources to do simultaneous online marketing activities.

Danhua Nie (third from the left) visited a local farm

Wang said that to prepare for the festival, he needed to get up at 5 a.m. to arrange exhibition logistics. He spent the daylight hours dashing around their booths and livestreaming spots, then continued to do product selection through midnight.

“Building up the fundamental infrastructure and operational capabilities for JD’s online pavilions for Tibetan specialties is the main goal of my current work here. And I’m eager to explore new models to help local produce to access the outside market,” said Wang.

Xianfeng Wang (left) talks with a local farmer

Nie’s mission is to first emphasize helping local farms to set up all relevant standards so as to supply reliable products on the e-commerce platform. As a veteran who has been working in the agricultural field for the past ten years, his know-how about products and their supply chain management helped him negotiate with local partners. It also requires tremendous passion and patience for him to explain the basics to different people he has been visiting non-stop at the local production bases.

“You need to have a healthy body, a strong mind and capable working skills to take on this job,” said Nie, knowing in heart that there are so many things awaiting him to do on the ground, ranging from products selection, system backend construction, logistics, marketing and operations. “JD’s good reputation and in supply chain and logistics have laid a solid foundation for us to communicate and work with the local people,” Nie added.

Guided by the goal of finding differentiated local products, Wang and Nie have been climbing up the mountains for wild saussurea involucrata (an herb also known as “snow lotus” that is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine), tasting special yogurt and peppers for the first time in their lives in small farms, or dressing in local costumes to feel the differences between textiles.

Xianfeng Wang (first from the right) is tasting fruits with his partners in Tibet

During this process, both of them also noticed that some commodity prices on the local market are much higher than those in big cities. Take potatoes as an example, the wholesale price can be as high as RMB 6 yuan/kg (compared with around RMB 2 yuan/kg in Beijing) as Nie pointed out. Transportation difficulty to remote areas, damages in the transportation process, and multi-layer transactions in the traditional sales model all contribute to the price markup.

“We hope that through our hard work and collaboration with local partners, we can help local people enjoy the benefits of e-commerce with better quality products, equal price and same or next-day delivery service,” Nie envisioned.

“I want to train some ‘apprentices’ here in the coming two years, letting more local young people carry forward this meaningful cause of using e-commerce to benefit the local economy,” Wang added.

Dreams are becoming realities. On Jan. 1, 2021, an integrated warehousing and distribution center was opened in Lhasa, the autonomous region’s capital, by JD Logistics. It will serve as an important logistics infrastructure to drive up supply chain efficiency for the local economy, with priority on the promotion of local agricultural products. Nyingchi apples can now reach the greater nationwide market by the same and next-day delivery provided by JD.

And for Nie, he has another important goal in serving in Tibet: “I also want to use my actions to tell my 7-year-old son that a man should create value for society.”

 

(vivian.yang@jd.com, yuchuan.wang@jd.com )

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