Selling Watermelons on the Internet in China

(Beijing Times)  The Watermelon Stand on the Internet: 200,000 RMB in two months.  By Zhao Sheng (赵升).  October 5, 2006.

[in translation]

Xihuangdai village is next to the Jingkai Expressway.  It has 283 peasant families with 2,500 mu of farmland.  The main industry in the village is planting, breeding and service.  Over the past several years, Xihuangdai village has leveraged its advantages in transportation, location and resources to develop agriculture and other enterprises to achieve quick economic progress.  This village was assessed three years in a row as a "national civilized village."  Presently, more than 150 groups consisting of more than 7,000 persons in total come to inspect the village each year.

She sells watermelons.  But she does not have to haul her watermelons all over the street.  She just "calls out" on the Internet.

She did not step out of the village.  During the two months of the watermelon sales period, she sold all the watermelons that her family had.  She also achieved the best sales prices ever: 200,000 RMB in income!

Her name is Cao Demei.  She plants melons in the Daqing district, Yudai town, Xihuangdai village.  She inspired the whole village to sell melons over the Internet, and caused an unprecedented atmosphere in the village.  In years past, when they had to bring the watermelons out of the village to sell, it was troublesome and tiring.  This year, the trucks come to the village.  Both buyers and sellers are delighted.

September 27.  Xihuangdai village.  Bright red front gates, wooden window frames ... one after another courtyard in the ancient style are scattered all of the place.  One of them is the home of Cao Demei.

Cao Demei.  A high school graduate, and therefore a member of the culturati of the village.  In this village, she cannot be considered a leader in watermelon production.  She has only five years of watermelon-growing history.  But like all the other watermelon growers, she has her bitter watermemories of melon selling.

"It was not easy!  A few years years ago, in order to sell watermelons, we had to rise at 2am or 3am.  No matter how tired we were, we had to get up and drive our watermelon-laden cars to the distribution markets at Xinfadi, Shahuo and other places, and we must sell all our merchandise before sunrise."  Cao Demei said that she had to drive the watermelons to the market to wait for the customers to show up.  She also had to wander a few times around the market in order to understand the prices for the day, and then set her own price based up the quality of her own watermelons.

"Really, it was a matter of luck trying to sell watermelons several years ago!" Cao Demei said that when luck was bad, she had to lug the watermelons in the car over the rugged roads.  If she cannot sell them for the day, she had to lug the watermelons back home.  After two or three such futile trips, the watermelons were spoiled and had to be discarded.

When watermelon farmers got unlucky this way: all their work only caused them to lose money "three ways": the gasoline, the rent for the sales stall and the management fees for the market.  Worse yet, the good watermelons had to be discarded after going back and forth a few times!

Like Cao Demei, villager Wang Fenglan encountered many hardships when she was selling watermelons.  Watermelon growing at Xihuangdai village made use of many new technologies, including using many layers.  Although this technique allowed their watermelons to reach the market more than ten days earlier than otherwise, it also created problems for the villagers.

"We got worried each year at this time," said Wang Fenglan.  "We didn't know what the market price was.  Although we had a good harvest, we stayed in the fields all day and we didn't understand the situation outside.  We were afraid that we would come across some cunning watermelon buyers who would deceive us and we would not make enough money even though the harvest was good."

But they did not imagine that the traditional watermelon selling practice would be bypassed so quickly.

"Actually, before this year, I was computer illiterate.  I only knew how to type!"  Cao Demei said, "I learned something about Internet sales through watching television, but I also felt that this was very far removed from me.  Only big bosses used the Internet to do big business deals."

In March this year, Daqing district began the "Digital Home Garden" project.  Twenty brand new computers were delivered to the village committee.  As the villagers watched the computers enter the village, many of them said, "What good is learning that stuff?  This is a waste of time."

This was precisely what the leaders at Yudai town, Daqing district were worried about.  It was true that before this year, more than 70% of the Xihuangdai villagers had never been in contact with comptuers, and very few were fluent with using computers.  "But you must not let the advanced equipment sit there as decoration!  At a minimum, you must teach the farmers how to use the Internet to sell watermelons."

The equipment had arrived.  But where were the teachers?

Considering the practical needs of the farmers, the Yudai town government got the town office to send 15 university graduates familiar with computers to become teachers at Xihuangdai village.  One of the teachers was Zhang Huayi, the deputy director of the Yudai town publicity department.

Twenty villagers including Cao Demei formed the first student class.  Zhang Huayi said: "Many of the villagers began by learning how to turn the computers on and off."

Clicking the mouse, setting up folders, browsing webpages ... the villagers went from being clumsy to proficient.  Slowly, they each successfully sent one of more messages to the National Information on Supply/Demand in Rural Villages website; built a storage folder; compiled a list of regularly visited town/district/city websites as well as other websites with useful rural information; obtained an email account ... during the learning process, the students had to send what they wrote and the contents of their folder to the information technology training department to check.

One class, another class ... the villagers have finally met the Internet and begun to learn to use it.

The point about learning the Internet is to use it.  On April 20, Cao Demei began to distribute sales information on the Internet, leaving her home telephone number for contact.

From that day on, she bade farewell to the days of going to the market in the dark of the night.  From then to the end of June, her telephone kept ringing.

People saw her sales information on the Internet, and left queries about the price and quality.  She replied with the requested information.  She said that the Internet sales effort attracted two types of customres -- one is the personal or business buyers who will come and pick their own watermelons, and the other is the distributors.

She did her accounting.  Without stepping out of the village during the less than two months of the watermelon selling season, she sold out all the watermelons she had and she got the best prices ever: the revenue was 200,000 RMB!

She said that of this year's total revenue, the buyers accounted for 1/3.  The prices from the buyers are better than the distributors.  Therefore, the revenue growth this year was helped largely by the buyers.  "Sometimes, I received several groups of buyers per day.  I was so busy."  As she said that, she carried an easy and happy smile on her face.

After setting up a watermelon stand on the Internet, her family naturally went into a division of labor.  She and her husband busied themselves in the watermelon shed all day; her 60-something-year-old mother-in-law became the sales hotline telephone operator.  Cao Demei said that even though her mother-in-law is not very old, she is not healthy and does not work in the field anymore, and only hangs around the house to make meals and clean up.

Cao Demei said, "Since I began the Internet watermelon stand, my mother-in-law became the telephone operator and she is actually physically better now."

Speaking of her duties as telephone operator, the mother-in-law told the reporter with delight: "Which old person does not want the family to earn more money?  Previously, my health was poor and I could not help them.  I was so worried!  Right now, I stay home to take telephone calls and I can help them do more things.  I am very happy inside!"

After one selling season, Cao Demei has summed up her business experiences.

When the customer comes, she will ask the customer for a telephone number in order to build a customer database; she will call her customers at fixed intervals and inform them what kinds of melons are almost ripe; she will use all sorts of creative ideas to provide better service to her customers.

"This year, the sales volume of watermelons went up, and it will be even higher next year because this year's customers will come back next year and there will also be new customers.  This is different from the distributors' market where it was a matter of random encounters without any steady customers."

Cao Demei is gradually getting to feel like "the big boss doing the big business deal."

The villagers did not imagine that a message posed by Cao Demei could have such a tremendous market response.

The melon growers of the village were stunned when Cao Demei received orders.  So they also started to sell over the Internet as well.  Whereas they used to hustle to the market to set up stands, they are now busy posting information on the Internet.

Internet sales brought a bountiful harvest to Xihuangdai village: This year, about 80% of the watermelons grown in the village sheds were sold through the Internet to the various markets and supermarkest in Beijing, and to outside places in the Northeast, Henan and Hubei.  The Internet information also attracted large numbers of buyers.  According to the statistics, more than 300 hundred groups totalling more than 4,000 people have been here to inspect, select and buy.

By distributing information on the Internet, it is possible to make a lot of money through the sales channels.  The people of Xihuangdai village now have new knowlege about computers.  In their eyes, computers are no longer high-technology stuff -- they are money-earning tools.

Through the "Digital Home Garden" project, many villagers got the idea to buy their own computers.  Presently, more than 1/3 of the homes in Xihuangdai village have their own computers.

In August, in order to assist villagers to sell watermelons and vegetables, Yu Haixia built a special website that has information on supply, special offers, peasant music and other categories.

Xihuangdai village party secretary Li Ruiping told the reporter that the village will also have an association for the production and sales of watermelons.  The association will hold training classes, it will invited experts from the Academy of Agricultural Sciences to speak to the farmers about watermelon growing, it will try to seek high-quality watermelon seeds, obtain good fertilizers and also help the farmers identify fake fertilizers.

At the end of the interview, Li Ruiping told the reporter another piece of good news: In order to solve the problems of Internet access, China Mobile has begun construction in the village.  Very soon, the villagers will be able to have wireless Internet access from their homes.