A lot of glory goes to the companies in China’s e-commerce and O2O market, but behind every food order and Taobao purchase is a delivery person, hustling the last mile in a complex system of logistics.

China’s retail e-commerce and O2O food delivery market is the the largest in the world. According to research provider eMarketer, sales from China’s retail e-commerce industry will hit $899 billion USD by the end of this year. Last November during Singles Day, the largest shopping day of the year in China, Alibaba’s logistics arms Cainiao claimed it processed more than 300 million delivery orders. Needless to say, there’s a lot of money resting on the shoulders of China’s “little brothers” (小哥) – a popular nickname for deliverymen in China.

In meeting the demand of millions of consumers, China’s delivery system has developed quirks and innovations of its own. Here are four that we think you should know about:

1. Forget PO boxes – just send your packages to a convenience store

One of the annoying things about packages is having to be around when the deliveryman arrives. In China, many people choose to receive packages at work instead of at home, since most offices have someone in charge of receiving packages.

It’s handy, but the downsides are lack of privacy, as well as not being able to receive packages after work hours. To get around the problem, e-commerce sites like Taobao and Tmall let you select convenience stores as a package drop off locations instead.

Tmall package service station

2. Scooters = shortcuts

Time is money. That’s especially true in the world of food and package delivery. In China, that often translates to creative scooter routes and reckless driving. Sidewalks, one-way streets, narrow alleys – everything’s fair game when you’re trying to deliver as many food orders as you can.

For example, here are some maps drawn by a “little brother” in Beijing, complete with labels for highly congested roads and shortcuts through hutongs, Beijing’s labyrinth-like neighborhoods.

Red lines outline fast routes through a hutong neighborhood.
Watch out for dogs and pedestrians!

3. No address? No problem.

The majority of China’s population does not reside in tier-one cities like Beijing and Shanghai. According to the World Bank, 44% of China’s population was considered rural in 2015.

But less infrastructure doesn’t mean packages can’t be delivered. Instead of having to list out a specific address, package recipients can add a description of where they live.

For example, this man describes his address as: “Across the bank at 480 Renmin Road in the housing complex for civil servants of the Ministry of Reserves.” There’s also a phone number and name so the deliveryman can hand off the package once he arrives.


4. Feeling impatient? Track deliverymen in real-time and send them push notifications to hurry up.

Finally, if you’re really hungry, instead of helplessly waiting for the deliveryman to arrive, you can scrutinize their movements on O2O apps like Meituan. These apps lets you track deliverymen in real-time and push them to drive faster by sending them alerts through the app. You can also call or text them directly.


Image credit: MuchMania/Shutterstock, Wyol.com.cn

Eva Xiao is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. Contact her at eva.xiao@technode.com or evawxiao (wechat & twitter).

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.