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2020-07-02 10:08:13

A city in eastern China’s Shandong province is soul-searching after its self-developed e-commerce platform was found to be riddled with technical glitches five years after going online, Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported Thursday.

In 2015, the government of Linyi — the largest city in Shandong, with over 11 million inhabitants — had invested 56 million yuan ($7.9 million) in developing an online trading platform for local businesses, according to the report. Dubbed Linyi Smart Mall, the platform was touted as “the city’s business card,” with local authorities vowing to serve 138,000 wholesalers and help local businesses transition into “smart” enterprises.

However, the city’s mayor, Meng Qingbin, became red-faced on a local news program last month when he was told about the website’s failure to live up to expectations. The television report revealed that many of the links and QR codes weren’t working, making it difficult to use for both buyers and sellers. (They were functioning a day after the TV report aired, however.)

A screenshot of an inaccessible website. From @齐鲁网 on Weibo

A screenshot of an inaccessible website. From @齐鲁网 on Weibo

When pressed by the television anchor, Meng said he was dissatisfied with the results and angry with the complacency of the “relevant departments” involved in the big-budget project.

“Some staff did some stupid things that they thought would please the leaders, but actually they disappointed the people,” Meng said during the broadcast.

Following the program, the mayor reportedly called several meetings and demanded that the people in charge of Linyi Smart Mall improve its website, according to The Paper.

On Monday, the director of the Linyi Trade City Administrative Commission — the authority overseeing the e-commerce platform — asked officials to “vigorously rectify their work” and come forward if they had made mistakes. The commission had previously formed a committee to probe the matter and review the trading platform’s operations.

Liu Dongmin, a local businessman, told Sixth Tone that he registered on the platform for free in 2015, hoping the government-backed site would boost sales of his lighting-related products. However, Liu said he lost interest after the platform was unable to attract customers as expected, adding that Linyi Smart Mall may not perform well even after a reboot, given China’s already-saturated e-commerce sector.

“There’s not much effect,” said Liu, who mainly operates his business through offline channels, and sometimes via the popular online platform Pinduoduo. “In 2015, there was no Pinduoduo or (video-streaming platform) Douyin. Now that the market has matured enough, it’s hard to break new ground.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: The homepage of Linyi Smart Mall’s website. From @齐鲁网 on Weibo)