Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bangkok Post: Protests Against Big Retailers

Protest against Tesco superstore blocks traffic

Bangkok Post

Nearly 1,000 small retailers brought traffic on the Friendship highway to a standstill yesterday in a protest against construction of a Tesco Lotus superstore in Pak Chong district. The protesters, from across Thailand, demonstrated outside the construction site of the new outlet. They spilled onto a nearby highway and later put up a large tent, disrupting traffic.

About 50 police officers were called in to direct traffic along a new route.

The protesters refused to disperse, demanding to speak to Nakhon Ratchasima governor Somboon Ngamlak. They want the governor to force the retail giant to halt expansion plans in Thailand.

The merchants said aggressive expansion of the foreign superstore was pushing them out of business.

Commerce Minister Krirk-krai Jirapaet yesterday said the Retail Business Act now in the enactment process was not a cure-all for small retailers.

Given the great convenience the superstores offer, he said many more retailers could be forced out of business even with the much-awaited bill in place.

He advised retailers to promote their places of business to attract tourists.

''Trading practices and the venues should be revamped. Displaying an old-time way of life will better draw consumers as well as foreign tourists,'' said Mr Krirk-krai during a tour of a floating market in Samut Sakhon's Ban Phaeo district.

He said the draft law would not curb superstore expansion, as many expect, but was intended to create a level playing field for both large and small players in the retail sector.

Making adjustments remained the key to survival, he said.


I have wanted to comment on this for a long time.

I come from a family of small business owners. My grandfather had a mini-mart. My grandmother had her own beauty shop. I have nothing against small business. I'd say that 90% or more of my everyday transactions are done through small Thai owned businesses. I eat Thai food everyday. Maybe once a week I'll eat at Fuji or Sizzler or have a pizza every other week. I do my own mini-mart shopping and grocery shopping at Thai owned markets.

I would guess that I haven't shopped at a Carrefour or Tesco in many months.

With all that being said, I think a lot of the hysteria over the big retail shops is a lot of BS.

From an economic point of view, the Tescos and Carrefours are superior in every way, for the consumer, the state and the employee.

A big retailer employees hundreds of people; a small retailer does not.

A big retailer has better service and professional employees; a small retailer is usually some frowning old Chinese man or woman who could care less about service.

A big retailer has better prices and larger selection; a small retailer has higher prices and a crappy selection.

A big retailer pays a lot of taxes; a small retailer doesn't pay taxes.

A big retailer is clean and well-lighted; a small retailer is dirty, dusty and has dogs running in and out.

The truth is that the big retailers and small retailers each have their own niche markets. If you live upcountry, you have to rely on the small mom and pops. There is no choice. And in many parts of Bangkok, like where I live, it is much more convenient to shop at small market than travel to a Tesco or Carrefour.

Actually, I would prefer to live closer to a better retail complex. The market next to me is horrible. It has bad service and the selection is awful. Most of the staff stand around and do nothing while half the shelves are unstocked and the place is dirty.

I'll be moving next month, hopefully next to a Villa.


hobby said...

This is not just an issue in Thailand, but in most developed and developing countries.

I agree with most of your sentiments, and personal beliefs aside, it is very difficult to stay away from the big chains when they have a bigger range and cheaper prices.
The only things the small shops can compete on are convenience and service.

Anonymous said...

It all comes down to the question of free trade, which of course is good for the country and the consumers. Only special interest groups such as small retailers lose out. If the government gives in to them, it will be helping them at the expense of the whole country. I can't help comparing these protestors to another special interest group, the monks who want Buddhism enshrined in the constitution.

Anonymous said...

Free trade and free will. There is no point whatever in sheltering the small business owner if their customers choose to shop elsewhere.

Protectionism is built into Thai commerce at all levels in one way or another, yet they howl like banshees when other countries do the same at the expense of Thai exports.


Anonymous said...

It's the same all over the world- small shop owners protest because they cannot compete. The winners are the customers who pay less for product and don't subsidize the inefficiencies of small shops.

That said, smaller shops can compete by outmaneuvering the big players in terms of varied product, customer service, convenience, and becoming specialists (whereas the big guys tend to be generalists).

Of course that means improving onesself and changing their business models. Prostesting is a much easier alternative, at least in the short term.

- Bond

Anonymous said...

I've got to agree with Fonzi about the smaller shops being generally awful. Around all of the Bangkok condos I've lived in for a few years, many of the neighborhood shops I've frequented out of convenience have never been good. All have eighty kinds of dusty shrimp crackers, piles of Mama noodles in disarray, a dog or cat and a grouchy family working there that acts as though they are doing a favor by being open. I try and be friendly, speak Thai and play with their pets and the attitude doesn't change. Even the worst 7-11's are better than this.

Anonymous said...

I've been in Singapore the past couple of weeks and haven't seen any Tesco Lotuses or such, and even 7-Elevens are very low key. The small shops that I've used are staffed or owner-operated by smiling, friendly, helpful people...who speak English. So it is possible for the little guy to survive even in an economic powerhouse like Singapore. Of course I'm sure the Singapore government had something to do without turning around the traditionally grouchy and grumpy Chinese shopkeepers. This is what we lack in Thailand, campaigns to educate people as to what to do (instead of just protesting) and taking pride in what they do. For example, right now in Singapore there's a campaign to "bring your own plastic bag."

hobby said...

Trirat: Sounds good to me, but I'm not sure you will get much academic support if you suggested Thailand should adopt the Singapore political/government system.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful. This is just a wonderful comment:

"and taking pride in what they do"

I wish Thais would do just that but they dont. In my humble, if they did this one simple thing the country would be transformed.

Well done Trirat