‘The sleep of reason produces monsters’ is a work created in 1797 by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya. At an even earlier time, the most famous and widely read novel in the Italian language ‘The betrothed’ (I promessi sposi), written in 1827 by the Milanese Alessandro Manzoni, refers instead to the plague epidemic that hit Milan in 1630.
“In those pages there is already everything: the certainty that strangers are dangerous,” (Alemanni in the past and the Chinese today – Editor’s note) “dissension within the authorities, the spasmodic search for the so-called patient zero, the contempt for experts, the hunting of plague vectors, wild rumours, the craziest remedies, the hoarding of food, the state of exception”, wrote Domenico Squillace, head of the state scientific high school ‘Alessandro Volta’ in Milan. With the invitation to the students to “keep your cool, avoid getting caught up in the collective delirium and continue – with the usual precautions – to lead a normal life”.
Italy, China and COVID-19. It has been a week of emergencies, of figures which are as worrying as they are difficult to verify, of decisions which reflect the uncertainty of the institutions themselves, of appearance on social media of weekend epidemiologists and virologists, of political monetization of the fear and hysteria surrounding our daily lives even where we would least expect them. The resulting consequences on work and employment will have to be assessed and there is little cause for optimism, while those adversely affecting Italy’s image around the world are already visible.
RETEX, ITALY, CHINA, AND E-COMMERCE
China is a significant part of our commitment and achievements, evident in our work distribution, in the expertise gained, in the benefits induced for our Made in Italy customers on that market and, obviously, in the physical presence of Chinese colleagues and collaborators in our Milan and Shanghai offices.
Today, that country is inevitably facing the costs, present and future, incurred by the epidemic. Not surprisingly, those who pay the higher price are the traditional brick-and-mortar businesses such as shopping malls, supermarkets and grocery stores, to the benefit of unmanned shops and the vending machine distribution.
In the country where the digital dimension of distribution prevails like nowhere else in the world, a separate consideration must be made for e-commerce. A study recently published by Kantar Retail, one of the world’s leading retail and shopper data insights, recalls how the SARS epidemic of 2003 (far worse than COVID-19) proved to be a catalyst for the development of e-commerce retail trade.
JD.com, perhaps the world largest B2C online retailer, reported data on the increased e-commerce sales of products related to the person during the Spring Festival held on 25 January. Rice, flour, cereals, oil and dairy products recorded a growth of 154pc over previous year. In nearly 300 cities with a 24-hour supermarket, consumers can place orders online for their daily needs and personal protective equipment.
The epidemic will undoubtedly further promote the development of e-commerce and, particularly, it will increase its penetration in smaller cities and the strengthening of online consumption habits. While the epidemic heavily reduced consumer spending in physical stores, the rise in online sales during the traditional spring festival points to a strong recovery at the end of this.
ETHICS AND WORK
Despite the disarray, we have continued operating applying the necessary precautionary measures on all business activities, both in our offices and in all external areas, finding, what’s more, auspicious coincidences between common sense, civil coexistence and market prospects. Once normality is restored, it will probably be even better than usual.