Fact: Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the heck out of e-commerce, by ‘forcing’ businesses to add or improve its distribution. Nowadays, you can get more things delivered to you than ever before.
The variety nowadays is crazy. I have bought things that I’ve never bought online before, like Harumanis mangoes from Perlis, organic salad and frozen Rotiboy buns (I still don’t know if this was a good decision but God was I happy). One time during the MCO, I even bought red onions and flour on Lazada (I was desperate).
However, now that things somewhat settled down, and our online purchases are no longer needs-based but rather wants-based, I am back to my cynical self.
Online shopping used to be fun, but now I’m skeptical of everything 😭 I know how often fake reviews are commissioned, how ‘growth marketers’ create fake profiles to give’user testimonies’ in social media and forums, how online sellers use psychology hacks to encourage sales 😭
— Suraya ringgitohringgit.com (@surayaror) August 3, 2020
So let’s talk a bit about this, about doing online shopping in Malaysia. It’s part of life now. Its convenience is both a feature and a bug, in relation to my personal finance, and I just want to take this opportunity to hash out my own boundaries with it.
After all, spending is fine. It’s necessary, the economy runs on consumer spending. But mindful spending – ah, that’s the challenge.
#1 – I don’t trust reviews on websites and shopping platforms
Estimates vary, but apparently a big percentage of online reviews are fake.
I’m passionate about this because I am STILL salty about this.
So it turns out the bag I bought for almost RM300 is sold for RM72 on Aliexpress
— Suraya ringgitohringgit.com (@surayaror) June 26, 2019
Long story short,
- I was looking for bags
- Naturally, I started getting targeted ads (which I’m fine with)
- One company’s particular branding REALLY appealed to me. They said the right words to hook me in: vegan leather, environmentally friendly, free worldwide shopping, practical and stylish
- And the reviews! Seems like people raved about it! Even in the comments section!
- I thought I did my due diligence well! Felt so clever!
- Actually it was a dropshipped product
- And the quality is bad
Result: I’m forever sceptical of user reviews now. Once bitten, now I can see it everywhere. For example, here’s a Japanese restaurant with five 5-star reviews on Klook, all submitted by one Ms Jamie Hui Leng.
#2 – I’m relying more on word-of-mouth recommendation
So if online reviews are unreliable, what works? Well, ladies and gentlemen, one of the best perks of having a (small) following on social media is the ease of getting word-of-mouth recommendations.
I’ve asked everything from stock trading apps,
Recommendation wanted: what’s a good app to practice stocks trading in Malaysia?
— Suraya ringgitohringgit.com (@surayaror) June 20, 2019
to good WFH chairs,
Can anyone recommend a good WFH chair? My back is killing me 😣
— Suraya ringgitohringgit.com (@surayaror) April 4, 2020
to finding property agents (btw still looking! To sell not to buy)
Any property agents to recommend, specialising in Klang market?
— Suraya ringgitohringgit.com (@surayaror) July 2, 2020
to gift recommendations and more
Suggestions wanted: What’s a good present for a guy? Preferably something experiential and/or practical. Budget RM50 or so
— Suraya ringgitohringgit.com (@surayaror) January 10, 2020
And once in a while I give my own recommendations too.
Ground coffee recommendation: Sols Coffee Roastery on Shopee. Second time ordering, super satisfied with product and price 👍 pic.twitter.com/W581rzvsx4
— Suraya ringgitohringgit.com (@surayaror) July 14, 2020
Can’t say this enough times: working on growing your audience on social media is one of the most fulfilling, rewarding, practical things you can ever do for yourself. There are plenty of ways to do this and honestly I’m still figuring it out, but don’t ever knock it til you try it.
#3 – I’m becoming more brand-conscious
I have a love-hate relationship with this. On one hand, choosing a brand offers reliability, especially the ones that built its name on quality products. At this age, I’m somewhat done with my ‘trying out’ phase, unless the product or service is recommended to me (see #2).
For example, when it comes to sportswear, I’ll probably buy Nike brand. I have and love all 3 leggings purchased there, and the shoes, and the socks.
The drawback is of course I’m less likely to support smaller brands with way less marketing budget, AND I’m by default supporting unethical practices of those big brands. Nike plus a bunch of big companies have been linked to using Uighur forced labour, something which crosses my mind every time I do yoga.
The guilt is unreal. I’m still figuring out how to go about this. Suggestions welcomed.
#4 – Buying as a form of support
One way to alleviate that guilt, I suppose, is by intentionally looking and purchasing from individual business owners. I spend a lot of time on Twitter than any other social media platform, so here are some of my go-to accounts solely for online shopping.
My fav twitter accounts to find stuff to buy, when the mood strikes:
Seronok scrolling through because you can see you’re buying from actual people ☺️
— Suraya ringgitohringgit.com (@surayaror) August 8, 2020
When buying from these individual business owners, I try to be mindful of my cheapskate, ‘extract best value possible’ mindset. It’s okay if the products are a bit pricier, because it contributes directly to someone’s livelihood.
When you buy from small business :’) pic.twitter.com/iRP9ZJHoIe
— Suraya ringgitohringgit.com (@surayaror) August 9, 2020
(I think I also prefer Twitter because I can look through their feed before buying. If they happen to be racists or sexists, then I don’t buy from them.)
Instagram is a whole other ballgame though. I know the small business economy there is THRIVING, but I still don’t know the best way to browse products and services, or how to find legit reviews on that platform. Here I mostly depend on the recommendations of my two sisters, who both make a living on the platform and know it way better than I do.
And now I shall wait for their texts professing utmost gratitude and eternal love for promoting them
— Suraya ringgitohringgit.com (@surayaror) September 30, 2019
(Unfortunately the texts never came. Wait almost one year already).
#5 – Knowing my weak point
I briefly touched it in #1, but yes, the more I do online shopping, the more I can see the types of online shops I buy from, and see patterns in my own purchasing behaviour.
One of the realisations was…
My confession for today is I’m exceptionally weak to brands that use ‘quality and premium products without the unnecessary costs’ as a selling point pic.twitter.com/uskwiKKab0
— Suraya ringgitohringgit.com (@surayaror) August 17, 2020
My other weak points include:
- social enterprise (helping marginalised groups like Asli.co
- sustainability in fashion like Biji-biji)
- using local models (instead of white models)
- part of #SapotLokal campaigns
- and more.
I don’t buy them often though. Unfortunately my wallet is not as deep as my conscience yet (therefore why I’m attracted to value for money angle above). But something to aspire towards, hey?
I guess everyone will have weak points, when it comes to branding, and if you don’t think you have a weak point, ooo let me just assure you that you do. The whole, ‘people don’t buy products, they buy ideas of their ideal self’ mumbo-jumbo is true.
Last thoughts on online shopping
Online shopping is fun. It’s really fun.
There’s that gamification element that I really enjoy, like you’re trying to assess whether that business is really worth your patronage. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t, but you’ll always learn.
I also love it because I can see digital marketing strategies in action. As of time of writing, social media marketers are actually kind of freaking out a bit, because Facebook is going to phase out cookie tracking. You know the ads you see when you visit a website ONCE then kept following you around for ages? Yeah those will stop soon.
Good, because those tend to have really big markups lol.
Ive seen the phone case I bought for rm8 from shopee, on Facebook ads a few times now under different branding. One of them sold for rm32, another for rm89. Same case, rebranded as premium
— Suraya ringgitohringgit.com (@surayaror) June 4, 2020
But of course other marketing strategies and technologies will get better, because sales-oriented people will always want to chase that sweet internet money. They’ll just shift to other methods, no problem. How will marketers get your attention, and subsequently your money next? We shall see.
Anyway, I’ll stop this post here, with that particular ending note. Something to think about.
Related: Why We Can’t Stop Spending Money