Online shopping overtaking traditional wet markets in cities

By Quynh Nguyen, Ngoc Ngan   January 1, 2024 | 01:32 am PT
Truc Ngoc, 24 years old, living in Cau Giay, Hanoi, has not visited a traditional Vietnamese wet market for years, because he hates wasting his time and effort bargaining only to be overcharged 4-5 times the actual price.

"Getting the cheapest buy is always a challenge at a traditional market. When it comes to online markets, you can freely choose and compare prices without being scolded by sellers," Ngoc said.

Ngoc said that if you wait for discounts and apply promotional codes, many products can be purchased for a few tens of thousands of VND, instead of a few hundred thousand VND like at the market. Moreover, you get home delivery with a return policy included with what you pay.

Thanh Thu in Hanois Hoang Mai district looks to buy household appliances on an e-commerce platform on the afternoon of Oct. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Thu

Thanh Thu in Hanoi's Hoang Mai district looks to buy household appliances on an e-commerce platform on the afternoon of Oct. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Thu

During the pandemic, Thanh Thu, 35 years old, in Hoang Mai district, Hanoi, tried online shopping for the first time in order to adhere to social distancing. But she soon found herself addicted to internet buying because of the high-quality goods and fresh, hygienic food. Moreover, every purchase she made was fully documented, giving her an easier time with budget management.

The trend is not limited to younger people. Pham Hong Hai, 55 years old, in District 12, HCMC was introduced to online shopping by her son and it soon became the number one way she bought anything.

Before going digital, Hai had to wake up early and struggle through a crowded market, often making 3 to 4 trips because she couldn’t carry everything she needed home in one trip. Now, she only needs to use her phone and wait for her delivery. "I can order everything on the app, from fresh food to household appliances and clothes. It's convenient and easy to use," she said.

Just like Truc Ngoc, Thanh Thu, and Pham Hong Hai, many people living in cities are gradually moving on from traditional markets to online shopping.

According to Nguyen Manh Tan, marketing director of an online sales platform in HCMC, consumer behavior changed dramatically with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, it was mainly young people who engaged in online shopping, but the customer base has recently shifted to the 40-60 year old group. In a report by Metric in the third quarter of 2023, e-commerce platforms saw their revenue grow 54% last year, reaching a total of 63 trillion earned by 443,000 online stores.

"The development of e-commerce platforms has created competition for traditional markets thanks to its convenience, diverse products, and great promotions. Young Vietnamese can easily access these platforms with their phones, and some spend up to 20-25 hours per week for online shopping," Tan said.

According to research on cross-border e-commerce conducted by Ninja Van Group and DPD group in 2022, the average Vietnamese person shops online 104 times per year, a much higher figure than it’s neighbors: Thailand (75 times), Singapore and the Philippines (both 58 times). Accounting for a large proportion of online purchases made by Vietnamese consumers is fast-moving consumer goods, clothing, and shoes.

As for the reasons behind the sudden change in shopping behavior, Associate Professor, Dr. Ngo Tri Long, former head of the Price and Market Research Institute (Ministry of Finance), pointed to 5 reasons.

One is that the economy shows signs of recovery but people's income has decreased, causing weak purchasing power.

Second, the infrastructure at traditional markets has become degraded and does not meet hygienic standards, causing danger to shoppers.

Third, the quality of goods found in traditional markets is not guaranteed.

Fourth, selling prices are often not listed and buyers are often overcharged.

Finally, the development of shopping malls and complexes, as well as online shopping is seen as a better alternative for many people.

"People always choose options that benefit them more, and these alternatives can help customers save time, buy quality goods at cheap prices, and provide spacious, convenient shopping areas that are safe from pickpockets," Long said.

For Hong Hai in HCMC, buying goods via livestream helps her avoid situations where she has to drag her hurting legs from stall to stall in an enormous market, with heavy bags of groceries in her hands. "My children are also less worried whenever I shop now because groceries are all delivered home, and I’ll just have to order more if something is missing. I don’t have to worry about getting robbed or pickpocketed anymore," Hai said.

Online shopping helps Truc Ngoc save 15-20% on her monthly budget. Ngoc’s brother considers online shopping his "lifesaver" because it helped him avoid complaints such as "men shouldn’t bargain like women."

As for Thanh Thu's family, online shopping helps save a lot of time. Instead of being pushed into a narrow market during rush hours, Thu can fully enjoy the holidays with her family when making purchases online.

"On weekends, my family can go to shopping centers to have fun and shop instead of going to the hot, cramped, dirty, and humid markets," Thu said.

Small businesses at Hang Da Market, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, display a wide array of shoes for sale, yet face a lack of customers on the afternoon of Nov. 28, 2023. Photo: VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Small businesses at Hang Da Market, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, display a wide array of shoes for sale, yet face a lack of customers on the afternoon of Nov. 28, 2023. Photo: VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

These changes caused a lot of difficulties for small businesses operating in traditional markets. According to a 2022 statistic by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Vietnam currently has about 8,500 traditional markets where 35-40% of the nation’s good circulate. But the ration is decreasing due to the increasing popularity of more modern methods.

A VnExpress survey shows that many famous traditional markets such as Dong Xuan Market, Hang Da Market, Hom Market (Hanoi) An Dong Market, Xom Cui Market, and Tan Binh Market (HCMC) now have many areas that are either vacant or rented for storage. Merchants in these markets say purchasing power has decreased by an average of 60-70%.

Thanh Tam's shoe stall in Ga market, Ngo Quyen district, Hai Phong used to be able to feed a family of five, but the family just had to close the outlet because there were no customers.

The 65-year-old woman in Ngo Quyen district has been selling at the market for nearly 40 years. She said that before 2010, customers flocked to the market, filling two floors, with buyers crowded into aisles less than one meter wide. Tam's stall of about three-square meters had to hire two more sales staff. Her income was enough to support and save money for the whole family.

"Now I can't sell even 2-3 pairs of sandals a week, so my income has decreased by more than 80%," Tam said. Running out of customers, she had to sell the store. "The customers coming to the market are all old people, and the inventory is stacked higher than mountains. At this rate, the whole market will soon be destroyed," she said.

Faced with concerns that traditional markets are at risk of being wiped out, Associate Professor Dr. Ngo Tri Long took an optimistic view. He said that this model will not disappear, because large portion of the Vietnamese populace is still used to shopping traditionally, and many are unfamiliar with and unwilling to change to the high fees to access their foreign currency increases, up to 65% in some sees.

"But for traditional markets to develop like other types, the authorities, the market management board, and the sellers themselves must change," Long said.

According to Long, traditional markets need to be upgraded and repaired; focus on convenience such as establishing spacious, free parking lots; ensuring the quality of goods and food; and maintain hygiene in the market and surrounding landscapes.

Small businesses must also list selling prices to make buyers more comfortable.

For customers like Truc Ngoc or Thanh Thu, as long as traditional markets are still shabby, with a lack of diversity in goods and sellers that still maintain the mindset of overcharging for everything, then customers will continue to abandon this way of doing things.

"I cannot be nostalgic for the past and ignore the benefits of new shopping methods," Thu said.

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