A visitor experiences a one-second 'makeup change' at the L'Oreal booth, at the first China International Import Expo in Shanghai, China, November 5, 2018. (Photo: VCG)
What if your e-commerce platform could diagnose an illness and guide you in choosing the right medicine to take? Or what if it acted as your very own makeup artist and found just the right shade of eyeshadow to suit your look?
At the Second Hongqiao International Economic Forum in Shanghai, held on the sidelines of the China International Import Expo (CIIE) on Tuesday, CEOs and ministers hailed the possibilities of e-commerce beyond simple consumer goods, to provide expanded services to their customers, and even patients.
"E-commerce is really happening in leaps and bounds in China," Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said during a panel discussion on the topic, adding that an MOU was in the works to sell Italian products on Chinese online retailer JD.com.
Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto noted the opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), including minimizing costs and quickly connecting distant markets.
Going farther, however, smart technology can do much more than just help you buy a new pair of sneakers from the comfort of your home.
Cosmetics brand L'Oreal, in partnership with the Chinese online platform Alibaba, recently launched an app allowing consumers to test their skin for acne: all they need to do is upload a few pictures and the app will suggest a treatment and where to order these products.
Digital technology can also simulate a makeup consultation and let you order the perfect lipstick and foundation from home, noted L'Oreal CEO Jean-Paul Agon.
The fact that anyone, anywhere and at any time of the day or night, has access to a company's products via online platforms "has changed the relationship with brands," he said, adding his company already makes 40 percent of its sales online.
"E-commerce is just the beginning of great service to transform the life and satisfaction of hundreds of millions of consumers in China," Agon said.
This access is especially vital when it comes to health services.
Remote areas of China sometimes lack a local doctor but smart technology could help detect a tremor in a person's hand and connect with a hospital hundreds of miles away for diagnosis, Paul Hudson, CEO of French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, told the panel. All that is needed is a simple smartphone.
"So digitalization is also affecting the medical sector and how to better serve patients," he said.
E-commerce has also revolutionized areas like banking, with Bank of China now better able to support SMEs – something that was previously considered difficult and not cost effective – and provide financial services to more remote regions, said its chairman Liu Liange.
As everyone jumps on the e-commerce bandwagon however, Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang warned that companies will need to keep up. The pace at which technology is developing means no company can maintain its supremacy for long without reinventing itself constantly.
Companies will need to create technologies and services that cater to the future "or (they) will become obsolete," Zhang said.
One hurdle is that many people around the world still don't have broadband and thus, have no access to e-commerce, noted Arancha Gonzalez, executive director of the International Trade Center, calling for the necessary infrastructure to be built.
Once established, however, e-commerce can bring goods and services closer to people than ever before, no matter where they are.
"In China, in India and even in Africa, e-commerce is creating a leapfrog dynamic," Agon rejoiced. "Tens of millions or hundreds of millions now have access to good products, good drugs, good cosmetics or good food, where before they could not have access."