As the coronavirus crisis in China surpasses over 20,000 infected patients, we look back at the 2003 SARS crisis to understand how the retail industry adapted to worsening market conditions.

Many will remember that over 8,000 people were infected by SARS, and nearly 800 perished. Schools, factories, and shops were closed, and China’s bustling cities quickly turned into ghost towns.

While the fatality rate of the current coronavirus is much lower at around 2-3%, the total number of cases has far surpassed that of SARS and continues to spread rapidly. It is uncertain how long this crisis will last, as SARS tapered off over the course of a few months.

Online sellers of essential fast-moving consumer goods and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals may see a surge in demand as more people stay at home and stock up for emergencies.

But in times of crisis there are always opportunities. We take a look at the challenges Chinese ecommerce pioneers Alibaba and JD.com faced in 2003 and how they overcame them, back in the early years of China’s nascent internet industry.

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