BANGKOK: The COVID-19 pandemic is transforming consumer spending habits and lifestyles around the world, including Thailand.
According to Siam Commercial Bank’s Economic Intelligence Center (EIC) in Thailand, increasingly restricted movement of the public and limited outdoor activities caused by the health crisis are driving more consumers in the Southeast Asian nation towards e-commerce.
With the nationwide curfew and closure of department stores, eateries and marketplaces in several provinces, more people in Thailand are gradually becoming more dependent on digital connectivity, as the country battles the ongoing pandemic.
This benefits some companies more than others.
“Although retail businesses, in general, have felt a considerable impact, there are still some segments that have managed to grow amid the crisis, such as convenience stores and e-commerce. Large-scale retail stores are likely to take a big hit from the fact that consumers are avoiding crowded areas and opting for small retail shops or online shopping instead,” EIC said in a report on Mar 31.
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MORE DEMAND FOR FOOD DELIVERY, COURIER AND GROCERY SHOPPING
On-demand assistant application LINE MAN is one of a few platforms in Thailand profiting from a change in consumer spending patterns.
Its food delivery service has grown threefold since the pandemic, as takeaway has become a new normal for many residents in its service area of Bangkok, Chonburi and Ayutthaya.
According to Ms Waranan Chaungcham, head of LINE MAN’s marketing and business development, the platform plans to expand its service area to cover more than 15 provinces in Thailand this year.
“In 2020, LINE MAN is still determined to strengthen and develop the app for it to be a proficient number-one assistant that covers Thai people’s daily life,” she told CNA.
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Besides food delivery, Ms Waranan added, the COVID-19 outbreak has also contributed to the growth of other operations under LINE MAN in Bangkok. They include courier and grocery shopping services.
“During the current situation, many people have expressed their interest in applying to become our riders. We have doubled the team to accommodate the growing number of applications in order for the entire process to run smoothly,” she told CNA.
On Friday (Apr 10), Thailand reported 50 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total number of cases to 2,473. The Department of Disease Control said 33 people have died from the new coronavirus, 1,013 patients have been discharged from hospitals and 1,427 others are still admitted.
As new infections continue to emerge, the Thai government has imposed various measures to control the outbreak.
On Apr 3, the country began a nationwide curfew between 10pm and 4am local time, effectively prohibiting non-essential movement of people outside their residence until further notice.
The curfew could be extended and more control measures could be introduced by the government if the health situation fails to improve.
Last month, Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang issued an order to temporarily close all department stores and restaurants in the capital, except those in hotels from Mar 22 to Apr 12.
However, takeaway services are allowed to operate as well as supermarkets, pharmacies and shops selling necessities. At the same time, the public has been advised to practise social distancing to minimise the transmission.
“With millions working from home and digital connectivity taking even more of a hold on everyday habits, consumers will have greater motivations and fewer perceived barriers to more actively seek technology-enabled solutions to assist in everyday tasks like shopping,” said Mr Scott McKenzie from global measurement and data analytics company Nielsen in a report for Research World.
CONSUMERS MORE DEPENDENT ON ONLINE PLATFORMS
In Bangkok, Ms Lalana Opakul is among the consumers growing more dependent on e-commerce platforms such as Shopee and Lazada.
Since the capital’s restaurants and department stores were ordered closed last month, the 34-year-old has turned to online platforms for more of her day-to-day activities, including working from home through video conferencing and shopping via mobile applications.
“I’m using applications like Shopee and Lazada more now to buy household items. If the situation continues this way, I believe I’ll have to keep using them,” she said.
“I shop online except for food, which I still buy from supermarkets.”
Responding to CNA's queries, Shopee Thailand said its traffic and transaction volumes during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak are “robust” and the company has seen growing demand for products related to health and personal hygiene, as well as other essential household items.
“Online shopping provides consumers access to essential items during this period and our focus is to ensure that these products remain available and accessible to consumers," said Shopee Thailand.
In line with the government's call for increased social distancing, the company has introduced a #ShopeeFromHome initiative, which gives consumers convenient and affordable access to daily necessities such as food, health, personal hygiene, and other essentials.
"We are also working closely with our sellers and brand partners to manage the supply and prices of essential products,” Shopee Thailand added.
According to EIC, the increasing severity of the COVID-19 outbreak means various adjustments for retailers in Thailand, including more focus on online sale and increased customer engagement through digital platforms.
“Business operators who have never sold their products online should begin to find a way to do so while those who already have a means may need to prepare themselves for immediate increase in sales, particularly the sale of essential items,” EIC said, adding entrepreneurs should improve their online purchasing system to accommodate increased traffic of users as well as the efficiency of the delivery service.
“They may want to increase the number of couriers to match the growing demand for products. Also, more online purchases mean an opportunity for entrepreneurs to access consumers at all time. So entrepreneurs should seize this opportunity to collect information of their consumers to analyse and utilise it for online marketing,” EIC said.
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Given the pandemic, however, e-commerce platforms have taken extra measures to ensure health safety both for their consumers and employees. LINE MAN, for example, has introduced a contact-free delivery service where users can notify their couriers in advance if they want their purchases delivered to a designated location instead of receiving it in person.
Ms Waranan said customers can also opt for a cashless transaction through mobile banking or use the self-pickup feature to place orders at restaurants before collecting them themselves without having to queue.
As for couriers, she added, face masks and hand sanitiser have been distributed to ensure their safety during delivery.
“We also ask our staff members to take care of themselves well,” Ms Waranan added. “If they feel sick or feel any symptoms related to the virus, they must inform the worker centre and stop working temporarily.”