The guilt of shop­ping at Ama­zon

Last month, the ‘world’s big­gest store’, Ama­, set up shop in Sin­ga­pore, promis­ing to de­liver ev­ery­thing from Tiger balm and teng­giri to milk pow­der and Maggi Mee within two hours of an or­der be­ing clicked. How will this af­fect Sin­ga­pore’s unique sh

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion - By CHUA MUI HOONG

BY go­ing on­line to shop for gro­ceries and house­hold goods, am I aid­ing in the killing of home­grown re­tail icons like NTUC FairPrice, Cold Stor­age, and HDB (Hous­ing De­vel­op­ment Board) shops?

I like go­ing to su­per­mar­kets, brows­ing the aisles in plea­sur­able an­tic­i­pa­tion of the de­lec­ta­ble meals that can be fixed, or the crunchy snacks I can munch on. I’ve never seen the point of shop­ping for gro­ceries on­line.

But it was lunchtime when news flashed across my com­puter screen an­nounc­ing the on­line store’s arrival. And I needed a break. I down­loaded the Ama­zon Prime Now app. Within min­utes, I was scrolling through the easy-to-use app and click­ing. Be­fore I knew it, I had a cart full of items. Ads promised a 10% dis­count. I ap­plied the promo code and got my dis­count. I keyed in my Ama­zon ac­count in­for­ma­tion and up popped my credit card de­tails and de­liv­ery ad­dress. It was so seam­less, I ended up mak­ing my first on­line gro­cery pur­chase with lit­tle ef­fort.

Then the ques­tion­ing and guilt set in. What had I done? Was I aid­ing a for­eign e-com­merce com­pany to kill off lo­cal re­tail­ers?

I like su­per­mar­kets. I have a steady, long-term re­la­tion­ship with NTUC FairPrice. I get tired of it some­times and grouch that it takes me for granted. Then I seek out my on-off flir­ta­tion with Cold Stor­age and bask in its courtship. I’d ac­tu­ally hate for ei­ther to close down.

I also want to sup­port our lo­cal HDB stores. I have a favourite fruit man whose tat­tooed arms pick out cher­ries, grapes, and peaches that are in­vari­ably juicy and sweet. I point, he picks, I never bar­gain. I also en­joy go­ing to the HDB es­tate near my apart­ment to browse the amaz­ing ar­ray of wares in the ubiq­ui­tous house­hold goods stores. So many colour­ful con­tain­ers of all shapes and sizes; ev­ery kitchen uten­sil I never knew I would have a use for; all man­ner of brooms, brushes, laun­dry bas­kets, clean­ing tools. I have spent many pleas­ant evenings lost in those aisles, emerg­ing hap­pily an hour later to pay for some item I will hardly use.

Now that I’ve dis­cov­ered the con­ve­nience of on­line gro­cery shop­ping, will I push these stores to ex­tinc­tion faster? That was my top­most guilty ques­tion.

Next, if I am to shop on­line for gro­ceries, should I go with Ama­zon or Alibaba and its on­line gro­cer part­ner RedMart?

As a con­sumer, I feel a lit­tle like Sin­ga­pore, caught be­tween the two big su­per­pow­ers China and the United States. Like Sin­ga­pore, I don’t want to be forced to take sides be­tween Amer­i­can Ama­zon and Chi­nese Alibaba. I want to be friends with both. I want both to be around, so that they can push lo­cal com­pa­nies to im­prove, and can com­pete with each other, and im­prove con­sumer choice and cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence.

When I buy some­thing from Alibaba, some small com­pany in China might be the one mak­ing the prod­uct and mak­ing a profit. When I buy some­thing from Ama­zon, most times, the profit goes mainly to Ama­zon.

Ac­cord­ing to a very in­ter­est­ing ar­ti­cle in techi­na­ that com­pares the two coun­tries’ busi­ness mod­els, “Ama­zon earns US$1 (RM4.30) in rev­enue for ev­ery US$2.30 (RM10) in mer­chan­dise it sells, while Alibaba has to sell US$28.10 (RM121) in mer­chan­dise to earn that same dol­lar.”

Should I be back­ing Alibaba’s model that at least lets many small busi­nesses make a profit? But then many of those com­pa­nies mak­ing prof­its are in China. While Alibaba’s boss Jack Ma says its mar­ket­place is in­clu­sive, and spins its lo­gis­tics hub in Malaysia as a gate­way for South­East Asian mer­chants to sell to cus­tomers in China, it’s more likely that the flow of goods and ben­e­fits will be the re­verse.

Even as I write this, how­ever, I know the part I play as a con­sumer in this phe­nom­e­non is minis­cule, and I know the end game will not be pretty for re­tail.

Un­less there’s a sea change. An­a­lysts are nearly unan­i­mous in say­ing that shop­ping in fu­ture will en­tail a mix of on­line and brick and mor­tar ex­pe­ri­ences. Many of us still like to be able to see and touch what we buy. The fu­ture of re­tail malls prob­a­bly lies in of­fer­ing ex­pe­ri­en­tial and dif­fer­ent con­cepts of shop­ping.

My ideal su­per­mar­ket would be one with a stripped-down range of goods. The space freed up will be filled with large ac­tiv­ity ar­eas with cook­ing, slic­ing, stir-fry­ing cook­ing demos, and lots and lots of free food tast­ing with drinks. I won’t need to drag a trol­ley around. I’d saunter in, scan my mem­ber­ship card, and click “Yes” when it asks me if I want to re­plen­ish my usual or­ders.

Then I’d head over to the food tast­ing sta­tions and snack my way through the op­tions, be­fore de­cid­ing which new prod­ucts I want to buy. All my or­ders will be con­sol­i­dated when I check out and pay. If I want to self-col­lect my goods, I just key in my car park lot num­ber and a ro­bot will de­liver it to my car. Oth­er­wise, I’ll pick a home de­liv­ery time be­fore head­ing off to my next ap­point­ment.

Beat that, on­line re­tail­ers. – The Straits Times/Asia News Net­work

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