With or without COVID-19, I don’t like crowds and malls so I think online shopping can be a lifesaver when it comes to the holiday shopping crunch.
It’s really like shopping in China, which can be good or bad. Good in the sense that the variety is mind-boggling, considering China is still the world’s factory. Bad because it’s caveat emptor, consumers beware. It’s hard to assess the quality of what you’re buying, until you get it. Do read previous buyers’ comments and you find the most common complaints are: “Oh, it’s smaller than I thought” and “Sana tumagal.” OMC (Omicron, my new expression), haven’t we heard those two comments before in real life?
We’ve come a long way with e-commerce, in particular online shopping. Even kids have figured their way around Shopee and Lazada, the two largest companies in Southeast Asia. Lazada is part of the Chinese Alibaba (Jack Ma) empire while Shopee is Singaporean but a third of its equity is the Chinese company Tencent.
Both companies use a business-to-consumer model, where you have thousands of people in retail sales. Sometimes I think we should call them e-sari-sari stores because the sellers don’t specialize, with one dealer selling clothes, food, and even “sensitive toys” (I’m censoring myself). There are even sellers who buy from those Japan surplus stores and then resell online.My kids sort of got me hooked for a while. Oh, but they derived such joy watching me learn and then I turned the tables around and have used online shopping to teach them about wise buying, including the mantra: do you want it or do you need it?
There’s just so much out there and if you’re not careful you’ll end up with white elephants. Do you really need that beverage warmer with a USB Plus, for example?
There’s a lot of deceptive advertising out there, the most common one giving a price range of P50 and up for, say, a cooking appliance and you’re going, wow, P50 but when it’s time to check out you’re asked to choose from various models and it turns out the P50 is for a plug adapter, the appliance costing you, well, upwards of P1,000.
To be sure, contact the seller even before ordering to clarify vague ads. If they don’t reply right away then just forget ordering from them.
Be very careful about ordering from mainland China because that means a longer waiting time and never mind if it’s longer (oh no, here we go again), the problem is you might have to wait almost forever, and then Shopee or Lazada tells you the supplier can’t deliver the goods. Then they offer you a refund, which is never 100 percent of what you paid. Many sellers do allow COD (cash on delivery) but that means you have to be sure you have someone at home who will be around to pay.
Durability is always a big question and sometimes, from the moment you unpack the delivery, you know you’ve just bought a glorified toy. But who knows? For example, I have walkie-talkies that cost P400 each and they’ve lasted a few months, not bad to keep track of your kids when they’re walking the dog or have gone off biking.
There are lots of novelty items, stuff that isn’t that well known yet. I know people complain about getting socks again for Christmas but hey, both Shopee and Lazada now have socks made from bamboo fibers so you can tell your boss your gift is part of climate action. (Cotton is now considered one of the most environmentally-unfriendly crops with its demand for water, fertilizers, and, lately, allegations of cheap labor.)
I’d avoid getting food and medicines because Chinese safety standards still leave much to be desired.
For food, we should get local products. Check ritual.ph for artisanal and heirloom food products, all kinds of spices, vinegar, flours, nuts, and good chocolate. They fill out your orders fast and efficiently but when I checked right before doing this article, I found so many of their items sold out.
Shopee does have an efficient returns policy. (I haven’t had to return anything with Lazada.) You complain about the product and they evaluate, then you have a choice of sending the product back by yourself, or they will even arrange to pick up the defective item.