Vulnerable youth fall prey to e-commerce's dark side

By Pham Nga   December 12, 2022 | 05:09 am PT
Vulnerable youth fall prey to e-commerce's dark side
A woman in Hanoi's Cau Giay District receives goods she has ordered online. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga
When her favorite online vendors showcase and begin selling their new items via livestream, Hong Ha stops everything and hunkers down into her phone to close as many orders as possible.

"Many friends recommended a popular online shop for women. They sell dresses for only 200,000 to 300,000 VND ($8.21 to $12.31), and they still look nice," the 30-year-old office worker said.

Ha, a Hanoi resident currently living in Cau Giay District, was enthusiastic about every item the vendor showcased during its last introductory livestream.

"I made more than a dozen orders, but they only cost about 3,000,000 VND ($123.13) in total," Ha said.

But when she received the orders, none of them looked good on her. "The color doesn't look the same as it did on the livestream, some are too big, some just don’t suit me at all," she said.

Her passion for buying then turned a little bitter.

"You'll regret it if you don't buy it, but then you can't wear it even when you do buy it," she said in frustration. "And no one wants it even if you gift it to them!"

Many of these livestream sites promise that the products are all branded goods that are only cheap because they had "faulty packaging." But it’s simply not the case and buyers end up purchasing the same cheap and low-quality knockoffs they can find surrounding any local wet market.

Thu Trang in Hanoi’s Hai Ba Trung district found herself in the same situation as Ha in early November.

She was staying up all night culling online stores for discounts on four different e-commerce platforms.

"A friend of mine visited my room the other day and after looking at all the clothes she thought I had a side job as an online seller because I had so many things," Trang said with a smile.

People like Hong Ha and Trang, and many others, are part of why Vietnam is now Southeast Asia’s leading online shopping nation.

According to the 2022 study by Ninja Van Group and DPD group on cross-border e-commerce in 6 Southeast Asian (ASEAN) countries, Vietnamese consumers complete an average of 104 online orders per year, higher than those in Thailand (75 orders), Singapore and the Philippines (58 orders each). The average in other Southeast Asian countries is just 66 orders per year.

A survey of an e-commerce platforms earlier this year showed that 81% of Vietnamese respondents said that online shopping has become an integral part of their daily lives, with the majority of purchases being Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), clothing and footwear.

Ho Chi Minh City Psychologist Nguyen Thi Tam said that the explosion of e-commerce has created an "addiction" to online shopping.

There has been no research or survey on the number of shopaholics in Vietnam, however, according to Tam, this is a common disease. Many people close to us suffer from it whether we know it or not, she inferred.

Assoc. Dr. Nguyen Duc Loc, Director of Social Life Research, said that today's consumer culture has changed from necessity to ego expression.

"Consumption does not only serve basic needs but is also as a means of self-expression," he argued.

"Manufacturers use marketing strategies to influence consumers’ perception, creating a consumer lifestyle under the motto ‘I consume, therefore I exist.’"

In addition, the birth of digital technology promotes the impulse to buy. Just a keyword about a certain product can result in an abundance of related images of things for sale on social media, tempting viewers to satisfy their unmet "needs."

The cost of shopping addiction

Many online shopaholics are now in debt. Thu Trang owes her friends money and has not yet paid her school fees.

Hong Ha has played hooky from work because she stayed up until early morning "hunting" and was too tired to do anything else.

Many studies show that shopping addiction has a correlation with other mental disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.

Psychologist Nguyen Thi Tam said that she once treated a male customer who was addicted to buying perfumes, bags, dresses, and lipsticks from luxury brands for his wife and children.

But no matter how much his wife and children tell him not to buy them things, he doesn't listen. He still spends VND20 million ($820) a month on online purchases.

This man told Tam that he got married when his wife was the owner of the business and he was an employee. Although his wife and children deeply respect him, he still doesn’t feel like he’s the breadwinner. He wants to buy expensive things for his wife and children to prove that he can take care of them.

Financial expert Phan Dung Khanh advises consumers to consider their purchases carefully and take some time to think before deciding to order products online. He said they should only buy when they really need something.

Both Ha and Trang are aware that they are shopping too much but they can't control it. If they can’t buy something, they feel sad, depressed, despondent, even apathetic towards life.

"I know I shouldn't be like this but I can't control my actions," Trang stated. "Everything is flowing like a river, sweeping me up in the current with no sign of stopping."

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