Mobile use of couriers in Beijing: tools for professionalization


Online shopping is one of the most prevalent activities in Chinese urban residents' daily life, which substantially relies on a large number of couriers who deliver packages door-to-door. Couriers working in cities can be classified as the new generation of migrant workers, who have few chances of qualified education, acquire high-level salary through heavy labor (Zhuang, 2019). The job has a high turnover rate, which decreases the sense of belonging and professional identity (Zhao, 2017). In brief, the profession of couriers presents new characters of migrant workers in the digital and networked society, which are intensely associated with the use of mobile phones.

The study on the use of mobile phones has been increasingly popular as the fast advance of mobile phones (Chan, 2015; Kim etc., 2017). Empirical studies from different regions have implied a common trend that the usage of mobile media brings the effect of empowerment. In line with these findings, this study aims to examine how the mixed way of mobile use – being a working tool and a private gadget simultaneously – has effects on couriers' professional performance and identification. Based on empirical analysis, two aspects of conclusion were found.

Firstly, mobile phone use has effects on couriers' quality of professional performance and the subjective well-being of the profession. Couriers widely agree that the three necessary weapons of their job include tricycle, mobile phone and unlimited online traffic package. The latter two support the convenient use of mobile Internet anytime and anywhere. Their professional performance is related to the skill of using mobile phones. Besides, some entertaining functions provided by a variety of mobile applications can bring happiness to the boring transporting and dispatching time.

Secondly, mobile phone use can empower couriers' professional competence through improving their identification. Mobile phones are communicating tools in its essence, which has been upgraded to be a social platform in which not only existing ties in the real world can be re-connected but also new ties originated in the virtual world can be constructed. Couriers build connections with recipients in conventional dispatching processes.

The qualitative data were generated in three months from January to March of 2018. In-depth interviews were conducted with 15 couriers and participatory observation with five couriers. The former method can generate data about ‘how’ and ‘why’, and the latter can be used to compare ‘what couriers said’ with ‘what couriers did’. 

Chan, M. (2015). Mobile phones and the good life: Examining the relationships among mobile use, social capital and subjective well-being. New Media & Society, 17(1), 96-113.

Kim, Y., Kim, B., Kim, Y., & Wang, Y. (2017). Mobile communication research in communication journals from 1999 to 2014. New Media & Society, 19(10), 1668-1691.

Zhao, L. (2017). Research on Couriers' living situation and role identity in China. Chinese Youth Study (6), 75-81.

Zhuang, J. (2019). Capital supervision and autonomy of labor: cases of couriers' work process. Society Development Study (2), 25-42.