Workers sort parcels in a parcel handling center of the Nanchong branch of China Post in southwest China's Sichuan province, Nov. 10. (Photo by Li Tao/People's Daily Online)
Workers sort parcels in a parcel handling center of the Nanchong branch of China Post in southwest China's Sichuan province, Nov. 10. (Photo by Li Tao/People's Daily Online)

By Li Xinping

China’s express delivery industry handled over 83 billion packages last year, up 30.8 percent year on year, the State Post Bureau (SPB) said earlier this month.

The total revenue of the industry hit 875 billion yuan ($135.28 billion), rising 16.7 percent from a year ago, according to the SPB.

On 10:00 a.m., Dec. 22, 2020, doctor Xing Zuzhong from the cardiac rehab department of the Second People’s Hospital of Hunan Province received an express package, becoming the receiver of the 80 billionth package delivered in China in 2020.

This marked a new record of the Chinese courier industry, which crossed the 50 billion mark on Sept. 10 and hit the 80 billion milestone in less than 4 months.

China was the only major economy that restored economic growth in 2020. The pickup in the country’s domestic consumption significantly boosted the courier industry. According to statistics, the online retail sales of physical goods nationwide neared 8.8 trillion yuan in the first 11 months of 2020, accounting for a quarter of the total retail sales of national social consumer goods. The proportion went up 4.6 percentage points from that in the same period of 2019.

Rural market was a major highlight of the Chinese courier industry. “Over 30 billion packages were shipped to and from rural China last year, and the year-on-year growth is 20 percentage points higher than that in the urban market,” said Liu Jiang, a research fellow of the Development and Research Center of the SPB. 

The rising demand for agricultural products significantly boosted the development of the industry, he told People’s Daily. It’s becoming easier today to send farm produces that were difficult to transport to urban areas, such as beef, mutton, hairy crabs, and loquats, he said.

Behind the progress are courier enterprises’ efforts to extend services to lower-tier markets, as well as their endeavor to establish rural express delivery networks, including the research on packaging materials and the improvement of cold chain delivery.

As of the end of 2020, express delivery services had reached over 98 percent of Chinese townships. Village-level networks were also expanding that express packages could be directly delivered to more than half of the villages in the country. As a result, the exchange of industrial products and farm produces between urban and rural areas totaled 1.5 trillion yuan.

The courier industry, apart from witnessing expanding size, is also going through changes in regional structure.

In the January-November period last year, the proportions of business volume and revenue in central China to the national total inched up 0.4 and 0.6 percentage points, respectively, and Hunan, Henan, Jiangxi, Shanxi and Anhui provinces all witnessed a 40 percent surge in the business volume of the courier industry, 10 percentage points higher than the national figure. 

Twenty-seven capitals of provinces and autonomous regions, as well as four municipalities of China, handled over 30 billion express packages over the last year, accounting for 36.7 percent of the country’s total volume, down by 12.5 percentage points from 5 years ago. 

The courier industry growth in third- and fourth-tier cities, and even below, is quite higher than that in first- and second-tier ones, which to some extent indicated the transfer of industries. “Industries in the east transferred westward, while those in key cities are also moving to peripheral areas, and this trend is speeding up,” said Liu. Key cities now focus more on R&D and exhibition, and the central and western regions are production bases, he added.

The fierce competition in the courier industry further brought down the average shipping rate. The average price per waybill for the first time fell below 11 yuan last May and further decreased below 10 yuan 5 months later. The average rate stood at 9.86 yuan in November. 

SPB head Ma Junsheng expects that a total of 95.5 billion packages will be handled this year, up 15 percent from 2020, which will help the industry increase 12 percent of its revenue to 980 billion yuan. The country will keep enhancing efforts to bring express services to villages, striving to cover all villages in the east with direct express services before the end of this year. Meanwhile, 80 percent of administrative villages in central China and 60 percent in the west will also be offered such services, Ma added.

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