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Defeminizing retail?

/ 04:04 AM December 22, 2020

No doubt about it: The whole world is seeing a very different Christmas this year. There is at least one reason to believe that women may be harder hit on a more permanent basis by all the changes. In the Philippines, with Christmas season starting with the onset of the “ber” starting September, it has been some time now that we’ve felt the difference, especially with sparse crowds in erstwhile teeming shopping malls and restaurants. In December itself, parties with food and gifts galore have given way to usually food-less online gatherings featuring online games, prerecorded entertainment numbers, and whatever else creative minds can muster to fill up the time. But I’ve seen two of such parties include food delivered to the doorstep of the online participants, which somehow helps cushion the huge drop in sales of the usual food establishments.

Related to this, what I’ve seen to be much busier than usual are the logistics and delivery services catering to online shopping businesses. This year, SM and the like have been replaced by Shopee and Lazada, and these firm’s names are coming close to being “genericized” to refer to shopping in general. In the case of one such delivery company that comes nearly every day to our family compound, we’re told that many additional motorcycle riders have been hired to service the surge in demand. The “11.11” and “12.12” promos that these dominant e-commerce companies have been mounting have succeeded in tickling the shopping itch in household consumers. I could tell how broad their clientele has become from how my grandchildren’s “yayas” are also frequent recipients of their deliveries, thanks to cash-on-delivery arrangements available in these shopping platforms.

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Indeed, Lazada Philippines reported selling more than 2 million items within the first hour of Nov. 11, involving more than 70,000 sellers, of which 14,000 were reportedly first-timers. China-based Alibaba, its parent company, reported record sales of over $56 billion worth of goods within the first 30 minutes of Nov. 11, with orders peaking at 538,000 per second! Alibaba has effectively turned Nov. 11 into the Asian counterpart of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving Thursday, traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year in America. Meanwhile, Singaporean-owned Shopee similarly reported record sales with its own 11.11 promo, with over 200 million items sold in 24 hours on Nov. 11. In the Philippines, the company reports that products in the Home & Living category topped sales, as Filipino shoppers bought over 1.4 million home decoration items such as wallpapers and window curtains during the Nov. 11 sale day.

The marked shift to online retail platforms has important implications for the retail trade industry in the Philippines, which, together with wholesale trade, is actually our top source of jobs. This sector accounts for close to 9 million, or more than one-fifth of total jobs in the country. Recent years had seen malls sprouting like mushrooms all through our regions, but it seems that their owners now have to seriously think of how to repurpose their buildings for other uses under the emerging “new normal.” These alternative uses include warehouses for online retail businesses, which the mall moguls themselves see the inevitability of moving into.

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An important implication of the shift from store-based to online-based retail is the likely diminished role women will have in this sector of the economy. While women clearly dominate the existing sales staff of department stores, malls, and even supermarkets, we are now seeing the prominence of logistics and delivery firms providing the “last mile” link to the end-consumers. And here, it is men who almost entirely make up this last mile link. I’ve seen many women driving motorcycles, but I have yet to see a female rider delivering our Shopee or Lazada purchases, and while I’m sure there are women riders out there doing it, they appear to be an exceptional and tiny minority.

Given the dominant contribution of retail trade to the total employment of Filipinos, this “defeminization” of retail is one issue that we must be prepared to address.

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TAGS: changes, Christmas, COVID-19, pandemic, retail, women, Workforce
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