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Commentary: Every day feels like 11.11 since COVID-19

The pandemic has made online sales so commonplace that the annual Singles Day sale bonanza does not feel exciting at all, says Karen Tee.

SINGAPORE: For many shopaholics, this year of the pandemic has also been the year of online shopping.

Just think back to those long circuit breaker days, where the monotony of working from home was broken mostly by scrolling websites and apps and adding items to one’s shopping cart.

More often than not, clicking “buy” became the logical next step, whether out of boredom or simply so something new will eventually show up at your door.

As someone who has always preferred the idyllic joy of browsing in a brick-and-mortar store where I can touch and try the merchandise before making a decision, I never thought I would become this hooked to online shopping. But of course, 2020 made the unimaginable happen.

I am not ashamed to admit my place among the legions of people who have contributed to this boom in e-commerce.

READ: Held online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, how did the Great Singapore Sale fare this year?

READ: Commentary: Has COVID-19 made e-commerce and online shopping the new normal?

My credit card bills over the past few months and the growing list of random things I have bought, which includes a case of wine, yet another pair of shoes I do not really need and a self-drying soap tray, are proof of this.


But there is one big shopping event I am not exactly waiting with bated breath for and that is the big kahuna of online sale events - 11.11, which falls on Nov 11.

Otherwise known as Singles Day, this used to be the sale worth waiting for, with shopaholics breathlessly snapping up e-vouchers and keeping tabs for announcements on the latest promotions.

While many retailers are surely hoping this bonanza will boost their bottom line during this dismal year, it appears they may have forgotten to consider another factor - today’s online shoppers are now spoilt for choice with the never ending slew of sales events.

From 9.9 to 10.10 and even Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday, there are now countless opportunities for bargain hunters to stretch their dollar.

With so many sale days to look out for, it is no wonder the lead-up to Singles Day feels lacklustre.

These days, my inbox is inundated with garish discount e-mailers whether it is 11.11 or not and I usually click delete without even opening them. The price slashes do not really matter anymore because I know there will always be one more sale coming up - or one that just passed.

I am certainly not eagerly awaiting Nov 11 so I can buy that cast iron pot I have been eyeing because I already got it on sale about a month ago.

READ: Commentary: Don’t get suckered by the hype of 11.11


It is not surprising to see this huge push towards e-commerce. Amid a generally gloomy economic outlook, online shopping has been one bright spark for the retail sector.

In April, May and June - the peak lockdown months - online purchases surged to make up between 17.7 and 24.4 per cent of retail sales in Singapore.

In the latest figures available for August, a month when shops had already reopened, e-commerce sales still made up an estimated 10.9 per cent of the total S$3.4 billion in takings.

Pedestrians are seen along Orchard Road in Singapore on Oct 30, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

Singapore’s digital economy earned an additional US$500 million from this boost, according to Accenture. More importantly, experts believe this shift in consumer behaviour is likely to become the norm.

Judging by my own evolving shopping habits, I am not surprised by this prediction. Now, I even have a box labeled “contact-free delivery” at my doorstep so that I do not have to rush to the door each time a parcel arrives.

And if I may say so, I have become an expert in snagging great online deals.

READ: Goodbye Robinsons: A look at the department store's 160 years in Singapore

READ: The future of retail after COVID-19

Besides keeping a close watch on probably a dozen different items on my wishlist to snap up when prices drop, I also follow various e-commerce sites and brands on social media to stay in the know for flash sales, which happen more frequently than you might imagine.


However, the consequences of half a year of mindless online shopping are starting to weigh on me. I cringe each time I unwrap an elaborately packaged delivery and look at the pile of plastic and cardboard waste.

Where possible, I return styrofoam or cardboard boxes to the seller and recycle packaging material but there is still a shocking amount that ends up getting tossed away.

Employees sort parcels and boxes at a logistics centre of a postal service a day ahead of the Singles' Day online shopping festival in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, China November 10, 2019. Picture taken November 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

Shopping sprees are less fun when you realise how you are inadvertently contributing to climate change.

It is also hard to resist the siren call of meeting a minimum spend just to enjoy free shipping or to score an additional discount. Unfortunately, this means I sometimes end up impulse-buying things I do not even need in the first place.

READ: Commentary: The 11.11 sale is great except for the plastic waste it generates

This rampant consumerism results in even more clutter which leads to more mental stress when I look at all these stuff I hardly use taking up precious space at home.


So even though temptations abound at my fingertips, I am resolving to become a more conscious shopper.

I have started by clearing out my wardrobe to give new life to things I no longer want.

I have invested time in reselling unused items, rehoming them or donating them to the needy.

LISTEN: Repairing and recycling to reduce e-waste: A pipe dream in Singapore?

In November, Chinese shoppers set new records for spending during the annual 'Singles' Day' buying spree, with e-commerce giant Alibaba saying consumers spent $38.3 billion on its platforms AFP/NOEL CELIS

I am also shopping more deliberately. Instead of scooping up a basket of clothes at a fast fashion store which will probably end up getting thrown out within a season, I find myself making considered decisions to invest in unique pieces created by local brands such as Ong Shunmugan and Olive Ankara, which I will treasure for years to come.

It is so rewarding to cultivate relationships with independent designers and brands as you get the satisfaction of knowing your purchase has gone directly towards supporting their livelihoods.

This may even be key in keeping our retail scene going during these hard times. Just look at how 162-year-old department store Robinsons recently folded due to declining business.

READ: Commentary: We mourn the loss of Robinsons because it was a key piece of our childhood

Its demise was loudly lamented on social media but honestly, how many of these mourners had even bothered to step into the store recently – if not to snag a sale item?

Shopping in a smaller store can also be much more pleasant when you get personalised attention and sometimes even score private appointments, great for those still concerned about social distancing.

Of course, this does not mean I am giving up on online shopping altogether. E-commerce has been a boon for its convenience and accessibility. 

I am pleased I can now get groceries and pet supplies delivered to me without having to brave crowded supermarkets and stores.

READ: Commentary: We are becoming a 'dabao nation' – why does it feel like a bad thing?

And I certainly will not pass up the chance to buy necessities such as household items and appliances during a good online sale. I know I have my eye on a digital weighing scale which I sorely need to measure how my pandemic binge eating has affected my waistline.

But when it comes to shopping as a leisurely pastime to treat myself, I’ll stick to browsing in a real shop in the flesh.

More than adding a new possession to my overflowing home, it is the experience of seeing, touching and picking out something special that makes all the difference.

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Karen Tee is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer.


Source: CNA/sl