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China’s e-commerce explosion is creating massive cultural change in its rural areas


Online shopping in China is reshaping economic opportunity outside of larger cities and creating unprecedented access to new products.

The great leap forward: China’s lack of big-box stores has allowed the country to leapfrog the age of brick-and-mortar retail and head straight to online ordering. In the United States, “e-commerce is a dessert,” says Jack Ma, cofounder of Alibaba. “In China, it’s become the main course.”

Reaching all of China: The Chinese government and e-commerce giants like are investing heavily in creating infrastructure to deliver to rural areas of the country. By drawing on locals to oversee deliveries and serve as brand ambassadors, companies can encourage potential customers to embrace the new technologies.

The air delivery network: Drones have been key in helping get its products to rural customers. According to the New Yorker, small cities like Zhangwei now get about four drone deliveries a day. Demand for drone piloting classes is soaring, too, as people look to capitalize on the trend.

By the numbers: China might have the largest e-commerce market in the world—twice the size of the US—but hundreds of millions of people in rural areas aren’t yet shopping online. As giants like reach into far-flung areas, that’s changing fast: China’s e-commerce market is predicted to double in the next two years.