Insights from China: Mobile is Key to Business Survival in our Rapidly-Changing Climate

Down Arrow

Posted by Luke Zaki on 02 Apr, 2020


Earlier this year, the world was significantly disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak, a type of coronavirus.

As uncertainty over the pandemic continues to rise and more and more people are being told to stay at home, consumers are changing the ways in which they shop and communicate with brands.

There are many businesses that are uncertain about how the current climate might affect them. This situation drives home the importance of how mobile can continue to reach consumers during these unpredictable times.

Right now, mobile is key for many businesses as it keeps them in front of customers despite the pandemic. Since the outbreak, mobile usage has significantly increased as we turn to technology to keep entertained while indoors.

In China, where the outbreak began, we saw a 30 percent increase in mobile usage, to total five hours a day. In Italy, there was an 11 percent increase in usage. It’s safe to say, we can expect other countries to follow the same pattern.

Source: App Annie

Recently, we have been contacted by many brands who have needed help with their mobile strategy. Their main frustrations have been either not having a strategy in place in time, or not being able to respond quickly enough to this daily changing climate.

Our recent webinar explored how businesses can still stay on track by heavily investing in their mobile strategies. Additionally, we took a more in-depth look at how mobile can help businesses survive the current climate:

The Impact on Businesses

There is no denying that coronavirus has shaken up consumer and business behaviour. This has put a strain on several industries across the country and the globe.

Several businesses, such as restaurants, pubs, retailers, etc. have been forced to temporarily shut their doors during the outbreak. Traditional businesses have been hit the hardest. Brick-and-mortar retailers and restaurants are faced with new and immediate challenges due to the need to close physical stores to comply with social distancing matters. Those who were not prepared with an online presence were stuck with the difficult task of trying to quickly create a mobile solution to tackle the crisis, which is a challenge for those who are not experts in this field.

As well as challenges, however, some industries have also been presented with new opportunities. Healthcare, SaaS offerings, grocery retailers, and broadband providers have experienced an upsurge in usage. Mobile and digital solutions can help even the hardest hit businesses stay afloat, despite the sector. Now, more than ever, businesses need to turn to mobile.

How Businesses Have Responded

During the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003, eCommerce saw a spike in sales. Alibaba and JD.com both grew significantly despite the crisis. We can expect the same situation to repeat itself now.

People are gradually moving from offline shopping to online and the habit won’t disappear when the epidemic is over. This will have a very positive impact on the whole eCommerce industry.

Zhong Zhenshan, Vice-president of emerging technology research, IDC.


Food Delivery

In China, food delivery saw an increase in business. Food delivery is one way for restaurants to continue to operate, even though they’ve had to close their physical doors. It doesn’t come without its challenges, however: concerns over food contamination have urged restaurants to innovate and start offering contactless pickup and delivery services.

Domino’s Pizza in the UK, for example, implemented a feature in its app for customers to opt-in for contact-free delivery. This means that consumers can still enjoy a hot slice of pizza while knowing their health and wellbeing is being looked after by the business.

Pub and restaurant closures, this has prompted Brits to opt for food delivery. Data analysts at CGA said that 13 percent of those surveyed on the 24th of March said they were getting delivery more often in the past two weeks.

Although pub and restaurant closures have definitely hurt the industry, there are alternative ways for those in this sector to find ways to bounce back and it involves having a mobile strategy in place.

For example, Brewdog turned all of its UK pubs into click-and-collect services via its Hop Drop app. This allows its customers to log in and buy beer, wine, spirits, and pick them up all without contact and from the comfort of their mobile phones. The brewery is also maintaining its community spirit by running a virtual pub that hosts online beer tastings, live music and comedy, as well as pub quizzes.

By combining an app, an online community, and the ability to pick up orders from the pubs, Brewdog has created a multichannel strategy that ensures the chain will be able to bounce back in the upturn.


Whether it’s due to demand lowering, the shutting of physical stores, or consumers spending less, during times like these it can be easy for retailers to disconnect from their customers. But keeping your customers engaged is one of the key things retailers can do now in order to bounce back in the upturn.

The impact in China varied across different retail sub-sections. Grocers, for example, experienced an increase in online and offline shopping. As the crisis grew, 80 percent of consumers in China expressed a preference for online grocery.

Across every retail sector, however, consumer use of online channels accelerated. Even though we’re self-isolating, online “foot” traffic is increasing. Traditional retailers need to step up their mobile efforts in order to continue reaching customers. Yes, store traffic decreasing will mean that your business will take a hit but it’s important to remember that these are just temporary measures.

In China, Starbucks had to close all of its 4,200 branches. However, as recovery from the virus began, the retailer started to re-open stores but still remained greatly invested in mobile solutions. Staff were re-trained and encouraged to have customers order and pay via the Starbucks mobile app.

Likewise, Nike shut 5000 of its stores in Greater China. In order to manage plummeting retail volume, the company acted quickly and rapidly changed its focus to mobile channels and digital capabilities to reflect changes in customer demands:

We acted quickly and decisively, leveraging our diverse sourcing base and digital capabilities to manage the business with flexibility, and shifting our inventory to serve consumer digital demand.

– Nike CEO John Donahoe

Nike’s activity apps also saw an increase in usage by 80 percent. This ended up having a follow-on effect for the company’s eCommerce apps as well, with Nike’s overall digital businesses seeing a 30 percent growth. This is a true testament of Nike’s agile problem-solving in times of disruption, as well as its digital preparedness prior to the pandemic.

Although the threat of the coronavirus on the retail industry is temporary, opportunities presented by mobile are not. Both Starbucks and Nike have continued to accelerate their mobile efforts even after reopening their stores. Companies who invest in mobile and react to new opportunities by implementing new ways of working will reap the rewards.


Digital and mobile solutions, like health apps, are crucial in the healthcare industry during this challenging time. Mobile health services are vital to freeing up the NHS staff and to helping those at home identify their symptoms.

Likewise, Juliet Bauer, UK Managing Director of online GP service LIVI, said: “Digital presents an important opportunity – stopping the spread of disease whilst increasing NHS capacity, ensuring the NHS can continue to deliver high quality primary care to patients across the UK.”

Despite everything, this traditionally slow-moving industry is now acting very rapidly.

“The Covid-19 crisis is acting as a catalyst for the whole digital healthcare and telemedicine industry,” says Luke Buhl-Nielsen, VP of Business Development and Operations at LIVI.

Where it would usually take 12-18 months to convince management to act, now they’re acting straight away: “We’ve made 10 years’ worth of progress on that front in a few weeks,” says Buhl-Nielsen.

Mobile has prepped healthcare providers to be more responsive and to address issues that patients might be experiencing while still remaining safe and avoiding face-to-face contact.

A true testament of Nike’s agile problem-solving in times of disruption, as well as its digital preparedness prior to the pandemic.


Where to Next

As mobile usage increases during the pandemic, it could be key to business survival. We carefully explored three ways businesses can build a successful mobile strategy and set themselves up for success, despite the rapidly-transforming landscape. Watch our webinar to find out what three actions you can take now to start creating your mobile strategy.

We will also regularly update our blog with information about how businesses can bounce back, so keep an eye out.

If you don’t have the capacity to meet your unique business digital needs and goals, then don’t hesitate to get in touch. We offer free consultations, so speak to our team today.

Watch next:

Get in touch with Future Platforms