Have you started community group buying?


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Wen / Ouyang Shi Lei
Source: GQ report (ID: gqreport)
Did you go shopping today? Or, you can take a look at today’s special dishes in the wechat group, place an order in the wechat app, and choose to deliver them to your home or pick them up after work.
The “community group buying” mode, which is based on fresh food market, relying on offline urban communities and adopting the mode of “online reservation and offline self delivery”, has appeared since 2016. By the end of 2019, many community group buying projects have faced the situation of layoffs, bankruptcy and merger. With the outbreak of the epidemic in 2020, the community group buying, which had been in trouble for development, has become a new outlet for Internet giants after taxi, take out and bike sharing.
With the rapid increase of penetration rate of community group buying in urban communities, will people’s habit of purchasing agricultural products change and what deep impact will it have on community ecology? Wang Defu, associate professor of School of Sociology of Wuhan University, visited villages and urban communities for more than ten years. GQ reported and talked with him about community group buying, community relations in epidemic situation and community ecology.
Without the flexibility and flexibility of the city itself,
They lose the ability to resist risks
GQ report: there has been a small development of community group buying since 2016, and it will develop rapidly in 2020 when the epidemic situation is normalized. Have you ever been in contact with group buying vegetables?
Wang Defu: to tell you the truth, before the outbreak of the epidemic, first, I didn’t understand. Second, I didn’t participate in Wuhan community, and I didn’t hear of it in our community. Later I learned that there was group buying in the community, but the outbreak of the epidemic greatly accelerated its popularity. As far as Wuhan is concerned, community group buying will appear at the end of January and the beginning of February in 2020. After the closed management of the community, some spontaneous group buying first appeared in each community. People contacted the vegetable base through personal relationship, or transported vegetables from the small vegetable garden in the suburb of Wuhan. At that time, I also participated in the collective group buying in our community, helping to count information and divide dishes. This group buying mode has been retained until now, and has become a more acceptable shopping habit for the public.
During the epidemic period, Wang Defu served as a volunteer in a community in Wuhan where he lived and served dishes. Photo source: Wang Defu
From the experience I learned from Wuhan, there was no big capital in the beginning. Within a year of the epidemic, this initial spontaneous group buying mode of buying vegetables has gradually emerged businesses and platforms. Now Alibaba, Jingdong, meituan, Tencent, pinduoduo and other big internet capitals are also involved in this field.
Just like the bike sharing in the past, the most worrying thing is that big capital runs horses to encircle the land. At the beginning, it gives you a lot of low-cost dishes. After occupying the market, it increases the price or increases the commission ratio charged by the platform. The government’s intervention is also related to the recent proposal to guard against capital monopoly and prevent disorderly expansion (Note: on December 22, 2020, the new “nine no” Regulations for community group buying were issued, and “low price dumping” and “predatory pricing” were listed as the focus of the attack).
GQ report: why does community group buying become a battleground for big capital? What stage has the competition reached?
Wang Defu: with the improvement of people’s economic income level and the continuous expansion of middle-income groups, the market potential in the field of life services is beyond imagination. In recent years, the market competition has become increasingly fierce. Group buying in community is just a new form created by the epidemic in this context, which has been accepted by the general public. The content of group buying is mainly fresh and other fast-moving consumer goods, which belongs to the rigid demand with huge demand. The terminal cost of group buying is relatively low, which is mainly due to the labor cost, the saving of site rent, and so on. These are the specific reasons to attract large capital to enter.
At present, some head capital has entered this field. Take the community group buying in my community as an example. For a long time in the early days, Meijia was the channel to buy vegetables, and the team leader only used a single channel. In the second half of 2020, the head of the group began to consider other channels. At first, it was orange heart preferred, that is, the group buying platform under Didi. Recently, Meijia has disappeared, and the group buying platform has increased to Jingxi (owned by Jingdong), HEMA (owned by ALI), yifagou (owned by ALI), etc., although the residents of the community still used to call this group “Meijia” Group. It can be seen that the current community group buying market competition is fierce.
The fresh food market has the characteristics of “rigid demand” and “high frequency”, with broad market space, but the overall market is relatively scattered. Photo source: Ouyang Shilei
GQ report: what is the impact of online purchasing mode of community group buying on individual consumers? Is it possible for community group buying to form a monopoly, and what is the possible impact once a monopoly is formed?
Wang Defu: (community group buying) the biggest difference between taking out and buying vegetables may be that it is more convenient to buy and pick up. Group buying relies on wechat group to release information, and orders through wechat app, which is more convenient for businesses to deliver information. Consumers no longer need to search for information on different platforms, which is more convenient and saves a lot of information costs. Due to the presence of a team leader, the contradiction between the fixed and unified distribution of businesses and the flexible pick-up of consumers has been solved to a great extent. Businesses save costs, and consumers are more assured and more convenient. The team leader belongs to the community residents or businesses, and the reputation capital accumulated during the epidemic period makes it easier for the residents to recognize and accept him. This is also why the community group buying platform often changes, but the team leader is very stable.
Now, the team leader has become the focus resource of platform competition. With more community group buying, consumers will naturally reduce other consumption channels, which will have an impact on community retailers, vegetable farms, supermarkets, etc. relying on physical stores. After all, the market cake is so big. At present, the market is still in competition, but the small and medium-sized group buying platforms during the epidemic period have basically been squeezed out or acquired, and now several familiar head capital are competing. Moreover, it is obviously sinking to the third and fourth tier cities. It can be predicted that the local small and medium-sized platforms in these cities will be severely impacted by the market. Big capital has advantages in all aspects. If the market is allowed to compete freely, it will eventually become a stage for a few big capitals.

The intervention of big capital is bound to disintegrate the market ecology with strong grassroots and local characteristics. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that big capital relies on the national market and has stronger supply capacity; the disadvantage is that it may eliminate the flexibility of the market itself. After big capital controls the pricing power, the supply side will take the initiative to reshape the demand side (consumers) in order to pursue higher profits. That is to say, the originally diversified and flexible local market is largely dependent on the consumer market, but big capital has higher consumption shaping skills and ability, which may change this pattern.
In a sense, the smaller the size of a city, the easier it is to form a monopoly. This means that consumer autonomy will be weakened unconsciously. From the perspective of the urban system’s response to major risks, I personally think that a rich and diversified market can provide more choices, which may be better than being tied to the chariot of one or two big capitals.
Near Shichahai in Beijing, mobile stalls are still common in various cities. Photo source: Ouyang Shilei
GQ report: from the micro point of view of your community, what is the impact of group buying on community life? What kind of impact might it have on community ecology in the future?
Wang Defu: my family is in an old unit community in Wuhan. All the salaried people in the community go directly to the supermarket or the community to buy vegetables. After online shopping, they go to the pick-up point after work and go home with their hands. What they think is clean and convenient. But there is a vendor in our community who comes to sell vegetables every morning. Every time he comes to the community, it’s like going to a market. It’s very lively. The old people are sitting and chatting while buying vegetables at his stall. It’s really a part of community life.
When visiting various urban communities, we found that it is often the old people who often visit the vegetable market. Many old people in cities have the habit of taking the bus to buy vegetables in the distant wholesale market for free. In 2018, I went to Shangyu District of Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, which is far away from the city. However, many old people are still reluctant to go to the nearby supermarket to buy vegetables. In the morning, they take a bus for more than half an hour to go to the wholesale market, go shopping in the morning, and then come back by bus. Once and for all, time goes by. For them, it’s not just buying vegetables, but a very important part of their daily life.
GQ report: with large capital entering the field of community group buying, and under the background that the release of the State Administration of market supervision will accelerate the revision of the anti-monopoly law, from the perspective of community ecology, what is the possible impact of monopoly in the field of community group buying?
Wang Defu: combined with the experience or lessons from the epidemic, the small retail outlets formed around the community, first, provide residents with diversified choices; second, solve part of the employment problem and accommodate a part of the population, such as farmers and suburban residents setting up stalls to sell vegetables and small commodities around the community. Although from the perspective of urban management, the small retail outlets around the community are a bit of a problem, after all, they exist for a long time and are already part of the city’s flexibility and flexibility. You can’t have a big capital and you’ll be barren.
Wang Defu and his research team interviewed the stall owners of mobile vendors during their research in Wuhan. Photo source: Wang Defu
If the large capital takes advantage of the scale of logistics, first it grabs the market through low-cost dishes, which leads to the failure of these physical retails, and finally it can only rely on the large capital logistics, it will lose the flexibility and flexibility of the urban society itself. It is very dangerous when the food and housing of the people in the whole city are maintained on one or two large capitals.
After the outbreak of the epidemic last year, especially in Wuhan, the situation is quite typical. After the closing of the Lihan channel in Wuhan, many supermarkets, including large online retailers such as Jingdong, and large logistics companies, have encountered a great impact. At that time, in addition to the state-owned supermarkets, those small retailers who could insist on ensuring supply were entering through private channels After entering the community, it played a great complementary role and guaranteed the life of the residents in that transitional period.
In this sense, one enlightenment is that we should keep these scattered channels. Especially after the whole society enters the risk society, if the channel is too single, the risk will be great. There should be an irregular, or even “relatively chaotic” market order in this part. This is the flexibility of the ecosystem of urban society itself, and in a sense, there are also security considerations.
Community intimacy in epidemic situation is not normal
GQ report: in the past year, all parts of the country entered the normal epidemic prevention and control, and the contact within the community was immediately strengthened, but what is the continuous impact on community relations?
Wang Defu: in 2020, I visited Wuchang District, Caidian District, East Lake Scenic Area in Wuhan, Yichang District in Hubei Province and Suqian District in Jiangsu Province, focusing on the prevention and control of community normalization. During the epidemic period, the relationship between the cadres and the masses in the community was really close, especially for the community workers from Wuhan to Hubei. Many community workers have worked for many years, but they were not familiar with the residents before, and the residents did not know what they were doing. Many people say that working in the community for many years has not brought a high sense of professional achievement to the city for two months. In the most difficult two months, community workers and residents have increased a lot of recognition and understanding.
Unfortunately, after the most difficult period of the epidemic, the relationship between the community and residents has returned to its original state. On the one hand, it is also very normal. People’s life is self-sufficient, free and do not want to be disturbed.
On February 6, 2020, Tian Wenhui, a stomatologist in Qingshan District, Wuhan, was carrying out comprehensive disinfection and sterilization on the first floor of the hospital. Photo source: Hu Dongdong
GQ report: but in the face of sudden public health incidents, many community problems will emerge. From the perspective of grassroots autonomy, why is it difficult for urban communities to connect and react as quickly as rural communities?
Wang Defu: in urban communities, it is difficult for geographical relationship to provide social support for urban residents. People’s individual needs are mainly met by individuals (such as relatives, friends and colleagues). People’s individual function needs are insufficient, and the motivation of everyone’s participation is weak. This is also the social reason why it is difficult for the community level based on geographical relations to generate self-governing forces.

The rural areas are formed on the basis of consanguinity of geo social integration, that is, Mr. Fei Xiaotong said, “geography is only the projection of consanguinity.”. Farmers can not completely rely on themselves to deal with all the affairs in production and life. They are more dependent on the function of the social support network of the village. One part is the blood relationship and marriage relationship, the other part is the geographical relationship of the village.
There are hundreds of Chinese style residential areas, even huge residential areas with tens of thousands of people, which makes it difficult to achieve collective action in the cooperation of community public affairs. The daily cooperation in the community should be carried out through key groups, which can get social incentives in the rural acquaintance society and continue, but it is difficult to continue in the urban stranger society. After the outbreak of the epidemic, many volunteers in the community took the initiative to stand up, but it was an emergency situation, belonging to a special, short-term, single participation.
A community in Shanghai. Photo source: Ouyang Shilei
GQ report: in a society of strangers, it is difficult to build close geographical ties only by relying on individual consciousness. During the community visits, do you see any community building activities that have worked?
Wang Defu: in community construction, we all hope to connect the residents and identify with the community. We seek to unite the atomized strangers in the community and integrate them into a community of modern society. There are many kinds of community construction in different places, mainly in two categories. One is festival activities, such as making Zongzi on the Dragon Boat Festival, making Yuanxiao on the Lantern Festival and making dumplings on the Double Ninth Festival. The second is normal activities, through the introduction of social organizations to teach residents to do handicrafts, calligraphy and painting training classes.
However, the community spent a lot of money, but the effect is very general. It is very difficult to achieve the effect of extensive mobilization. The salaried people seldom participate in the activities. The retired elderly are the most active group in the community activities, but it is difficult to expand. For the participants, the enjoyment of rights does not necessarily give birth to their awareness of caring about community public affairs. The two things of activity welfare and participation in community public affairs are separated. This is also an important reason why there are more and more services, but the ability of community governance has not been improved at the same time.
City Governance: a probe into urban and community governance in China, written by Wang Defu
GQ report: in your new book “governing the city”, you said, “it’s better to let go of the obsession of community.”.
Wang Defu: because in the community, the government now invests too much resources in these activities. If these resources are invested in the things that residents need most, they can actually achieve better results. For example, at the present stage, it is community property management. Only common interests can stimulate the sense of community, and community construction should focus on key events.
Even if there is a sense of community in the community, the urban community can not be as close as the village. In my opinion, closeness and intimacy are against the objective law of urban life. One of the main charms of city life is freedom. It’s hard to have freedom in too close relationship. Everyone should have this experience. Only in a strange relationship can you be more free, have your privacy, and have all kinds of personal interests and preferences. The city is supposed to provide this kind of space. Under this premise, we can cooperate in time when necessary.
In the current city, the establishment of a strong
Geopolitical connection is no longer possible?
GQ report: since the outbreak, there has been a lot of attention and discussion about the surrounding communities. In recent years, there have been many discussions about the relationship between neighboring cities. But is it impossible to establish a strong geographical connection in the present city?
Wang Defu: I don’t think it’s necessary to deliberately establish geographical relations. It’s a natural process. For young people, the importance of geographical relationship is not so strong, because the social interaction of urban young people mainly revolves around work and interest, that is, the relationship between career and interest, which can be separated from their residence. But the relationship between people and the surrounding community environment also changes with the evolution of people’s life cycle. For example, after childbirth or retirement, the importance of geographical relationship will increase. With the increase of age, people’s dependence on geographical life will further increase.
In cities, geo communication often occurs in the special group of the elderly. The old people’s action ability is limited, the action radius is relatively small, unlike the young people can run everywhere, but also through the network. When people are old, they are bound to go out of the house and have a sun and chat under the corridor. If it’s a group of young people chatting together in the community, you will feel strange after reading it. I think it’s a natural process. We need to be patient.
GQ report: if we want to understand the internal relations of urban communities and the transformation from acquaintance society to stranger society, we can not bypass the housing reform, but how does the housing reform affect the relationship of urban life?
Wang Defu: in 1998, China’s housing distribution system in kind, which has been implemented for nearly 40 years, came to an end. In 2003, the state proposed to let most families buy or rent ordinary commercial housing, and the housing of most families was put into the market. The housing reform has shaped the spatial pattern and social pattern of Chinese cities. The key lies in that after the housing reform, the architectural form we live in has taken this kind of closed community formed by the high-rise and super high-rise collective buildings which are different from those in the world. Only Chinese cities are the most in the world, and it has become a part of the living form of ordinary people.
An old community in Shanghai is a public activity place transformed by residents themselves. Wang Defu, a resident who came to investigate, said that the street was illegal and had to be demolished. The residents like it very much and ask the research team to help them reflect. Photo source: Wang Defu
In the era of welfare housing distribution, the same source of housing contributed to the formation of a large number of unit communities, and the dependence of obtaining housing reduced people’s migration ability to the minimum, so the community was easy to form an acquaintance society. After the housing marketization, the family purchasing power has almost become the only factor determining the residential community. The residential community formed on this basis has completely become a stranger society, and the identity attributes such as occupation, region and age are highly heterogeneous. But now, even in the old community, with the housing transaction and social mobility, the residents’ familiarity is also greatly reduced.

GQ: but is it possible to change the current form of housing? In February 2016, the State Council issued a document, which mentioned that “the block system should be promoted in new residential buildings. In principle, closed residential areas will no longer be built, and the completed residential areas and unit compound should be gradually opened.”.
Wang Defu: after the reform of the housing system, the choice of closed residential area is mainly based on the intensive use of land, and the plot ratio is relatively high. In such a space, all things, the so-called governance to the boundaries of the community as a unit to start. This is also the reason why the central government’s document of promoting the block system in 2016 caused great controversy and ended up in the end. It is good to pursue the open block of old western cities in terms of opening up the capillaries of cities. But in terms of the habits of the Chinese people and the convenience of urban management, it is not feasible. The enclosed enclosed residential district has its problems, but it is reasonable and has become a basic reality.
Now we are going to discuss and explore where the grassroots governance of Chinese cities is going on the basis of such a space. The impact of it is that there are many groups living in the closed community, and strangers have to cooperate to solve the problems in the community.
Since the housing system reform started in the late 1990s, the real estate market has entered a high-speed development from around 2003. A large number of closed commercial housing districts have sprung up. Now, the natural depreciation and use loss of buildings have just entered a period of decline in living quality and peak of district maintenance. At the same time, the property service market has entered a period of deep restructuring. The superposition of two macro factors aggravates the complexity of community governance, which brings great challenges to the grassroots governance. The development of owner autonomy at the community level is still immature, which will magnify the challenge.
GQ report: at the end of 2019, the Ministry of housing and urban rural development proposed to build a “complete community”. What do you think is the future direction of urban community construction?
Wang Defu: after the epidemic, the Ministry of housing and urban rural development has strengthened its attitude of building a “complete community”, that is, it is better for the community to provide relatively complete functions, such as some small retail terminals, small clinics, and kindergartens, so as to provide a community with relatively complete functions as far as possible, so that the family can meet these living needs more conveniently. In recent years, Shanghai has proposed to build a 15 minute life circle, and some small cities have proposed a 10 minute life circle. The concept of life circle is also a trend in urban planning, and it is also becoming a direction for the work of the housing and construction department.
American urban planning expert Jane Jacobs once outlined the interaction of people on the block, which is called “street ballet”. Photo source: Ouyang Shilei
Generally speaking, they all want to form a relatively complete regional space of functional support system outside the community. In the period of the unit system, the unit compound was equivalent to a small community with relatively complete functions, such as housing, school, hospital and so on. For example, Wuda, where I live, has a complete community inside, such as housing, hospital, school and so on. The children of Wuda can complete their studies from kindergarten to university without leaving the campus of Wuda.
But we do not need to deliberately pursue the integrity of the community itself. What the community wants is a quiet life. Don’t make it too rich. This is in contradiction with the residential function. It should be considered as a whole with the whole city as a regional space system. Of course, the more complete the regional living system within a living radius, the better the richness of the community, the more living arrangements we have in the small regional space, the more frequent contact between residents, and the more smoky social life.
Do you go shopping or do you buy in the community? What are your experiences and feelings?
(statement: This article only represents the author’s point of view, not Sina’s position.)