While managing her convenience store in the central Chinese city of Changsha, Chen Shishun always has an eye on her phone. In part, she’s just talking on WeChat and sharing photos with her improbably large network of friends and neighbors. But Chen also monitors grocery apps for bulk deals on fruits and vegetables, then gathers orders from people she knows and has the food delivered to her store.
The role of neighborhood e-commerce middleman, or tuan zhang, has become an increasingly vital one in Chinese cities since the first Covid-19 lockdowns. Chen, the kind of local merchant who does things like help customers carry purchases home, took charge of placing online grocery orders for the neighborhood when it was locked down this February. Word of her services spread quickly, and she now has almost a thousand people seeking to take advantage of steep discounts and cheaper shipping fees she gets by placing big orders—on the busiest days, she and an assistant handle 800—and centralizing deliveries.
There are hundreds of thousands of such operations across China. People form community buying groups based on shared neighborhoods, districts, or even apartment blocks. While some version of this has existed since rural farmers banded together to buy seeds and fertilizer, it’s been supercharged by smartphones and a growing e-commerce market.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
It's Not Just the Confetti
How Robinhood made stock trading easy, approachable— and maybe too hard to resist
Not-So-Great Green Jobs
Clean energy isn’t a wellspring of the better-paying union jobs Biden has been touting
THE COLLAPSE OF COPERNICUS
The implosion of Curt Schilling’s video game empire was a $150 million reminder that the industry’s workers are always on the verge of disaster
○ Riders are flocking back to ride-hailing, but drivers need more nudging
Making That Money
For music executives like Kevin Liles, of the hip-hop label 300 Entertainment, the pandemic has mostly made a good life better. A lot of musicians, however, are experiencing something different
The soothing escapes that old-growth forests provide are probably much closer than you think. But they’re under siege
Hands Off My Football Team!
The European Super League followed a model shaped in the U.S. Opposition from fans scuttled the idea
Can Aluminum Really Go Green?
Alcoa and Rio Tinto —with a push from Apple—are trying to clean up production of one of the dirtiest metals
Unending Pandemic. Global Anxiety. Travel Restrictions. Perfect Time To Start An Airline!
David Neeleman, airline savant (think Jetblue) and perpetual optimist, is at it again with a new budget carrier called Breeze
Go Big or Go Home
Joe Biden tackled Covid and an economic crisis in his first 100 days. It won’t get easier from herea