The guilt of shopping at Amazon
Last month, the ‘world’s biggest store’, Amazon.com, 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
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 techinasia.com 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