By The Nation
Pornsan Vichienpradit, the centre’s deputy director, said this week it’s a wonder that small-scale brick-and-mortar merchants can survive at all with shoppers increasingly relying on technology-assisted purchases and the nearest 7-Eleven or Family Mart.
The centre’s “4.0 City People: The Future Urban Life in Thailand” survey confirmed that consumers increasingly trust online shopping channels due to the development of more diverse logistics services as well as banks’ readiness to facilitate financial transactions for retail customers.
They have more choice in purchases and it’s far quicker than travelling to and browsing through a physical store.
And by now, everyone is comfortable with social media, where thousands of entrepreneurs have set up shop, often offering intriguing alternatives in goods and services and guaranteeing swift delivery anywhere.
It’s estimated, meanwhile, that there are now 14,000 convenience stores in Thailand and their popularity is rising thanks to increasing variety among the products on the shelves. You can usually find a coffee corner inside, as well as made-to-order food, logistics services and bill-payment service, possibly even a pharmacy or a souvenir shop.
The diversity is even greater in other countries. In Japan, Lawson convenience stores have developed sub-brands such as Natural Lawson, which specialises in healthy and organic products, and Lawson Store 100, where nothing costs more than 100 yen, including fresh food, and portions can be reduced in size for single and elderly people.
Lawson even offers consultations with nutritionists and other professionals.
The big convenience-store operators are all capital groups and thus have the advantages of lower procurement and distribution costs, greater scope for product development and the best locations.
“It may develop to the point of being a business that completely destroys the basic consumer goods of the city in the future,” Pornsan said.
In the suburbs of Bangkok, the Phumphuang grocery truck is a common sight, carrying fresh and dried foods from the fresh market to communities far distant or to villages without a large store.
The Phumphuang truck’s key customers are village elders restricted in their movement and factory and construction-site workers who have little or no time or money to go to regular shops.
Phumphuang truck prices are 10-15 per cent more expensive than those at the market, but customers are willing to pay more for convenience. The drivers will even deliver items on demand with a day’s notice, and people can pay their bills at the truck too, albeit with an extra Bt10-Bt20 charge attached.
However, meal and grocery deliveries to the home and workplace are increasingly arranged these days through phone applications, Pornsan pointed out. If those delivery services can reach remote locales, will it spell the end for the Phumphuang truck?
Thai planning policy at the central and city level has always tended to leave consumer product flow to market supply and demand, Pornsan said, “neglecting the need for a comprehensive utility plan”.
“People have to find a solution and rely on more expensive alternatives amid the current technological and economic changes. The government should increase interest and prepare marketing utilities for small and medium-sized city vendors around the Thailand 4.0 city model.”