Delivering the world to your doorstep
Tip-tap. Tick-tock. Knockknock.
That’s how we shop.
A few taps on my phone, a short wait and the goods arrive.
I’ve hardly set foot in a physical store since I set up my phone to enable me to make use of China’s vast e-commerce offerings.
I’ve kept a tally and discovered I average around seven deliveries on days I don’t leave the house.
Three meals, groceries for later, detergent, earphones, water, diapers, towels, sweaters — indeed, all these necessities come to my door on the back of a bike as fast as the deliveryman can bring them.
That’s not to mention such, novelties I guess you could call them, as beer mugs adorned with Asian dragons that flash with multicolor lights, geodes for my daughter to break open and Star Wars-themed socks for my superfan wife.
Basic Western food and treats like coffee and cheese were difficult to find when I first arrived in China 12 years ago. Acquiring them meant traveling to the handful of places across the city, such as the Friendship Store, that sold such goods and paying exorbitant prices.
Fast forward to today — it’s still difficult to find such items as sourdough, salsa verde and French onion seasoning in any physical stores I’m aware of. (Other foreign fare, such as pretzels, salami and spaghetti sauce are now relatively easy to get at the handful shops around the city that stock imported foods.)
But virtually any foodstuff from any corner of the globe is easily purchased on Taobao — and affordable.
Of course, we mostly eat Chinese staples, which are even cheaper and easier to find on shopping apps, and typically arrive within about 40 minutes. (Taobao takes days.)
I haven’t visited a supermarket in months. Even though there’s one across the street from my apartment, a trip takes about an hour or so — longer if I have to tow the kids along.
Now, I can shop in under a minute, leaving more time to play with my children, rather than drag — and sometimes chase — them through a shopping complex.
I’ve absolutely detested shopping all my life. I used to try to buy all the clothes I’d need for a few years in one trip to get it over with.
But I’ve come to adore online shopping in China. That’s partly because of the novelty of the strange and surprising things you can find.
For instance, a human hamster wheel, an animatronic dancing caveman, bacon-shaped earrings, coffee mugs that make it look like you have a pig nose when you drink from them — you name it.
Search “scorpions”, and up pop pages selling scorpions for pets, scorpions for snacks and albums by the German metal band, Scorpions.
My economist friend recently purchased a money gun from Taobao. That is, a gun that blasts bills when you pull the trigger.
We joked this may soon prove one of few uses for physical banknotes in China’s increasingly cashless and e-commerce-driven landscape.
Erik Nilsson Second Thoughts