With its modern skylines, neon lights, expensive brands and constant construction many visitors get the feeling Hong Kong is an incredibly modern city. While it is modern on many levels, it is also incredibly behind when it comes to e-commerce. Sure, there are plenty of wi-fi hotspots around town and everyone is always “online” (thanks in part to very reasonably priced mobile connection packages) but e-commerce in Hong Kong is actually almost non-existent. Having done some research into the matter, I have come to the conclusion that there are three main reasons for the slow development of online shopping:
a) Proximity: Although Hong Kong has a population of over 7 million, this is ultimately a small place. Add to this one of the most efficient public transportation systems in the world and you can get to any shop in a very short amount of time. Cheap taxis and easily available delivery minivans assure you can easily haul your goods home, while many supermarkets even offer free delivery on a spend of as little as HK$500.
b) Labour: one of the key strengths of e-commerce is that for most businesses it is the cheapest channel of distribution. Other options often carry the heavy cost of labour but this is something that is not an issue in Hong Kong where labour is in fact relatively cheap. Anyone who has walked into most Hong Kong shops will be surprised to see them almost “over-staffed”. Ultimately it is not in the interest of the local government to promote anything that would reduce the need for local employment.
c) Local attitude: with the average size of Hong Kong’s apartments in the 600 square foot range, it is no surprise that people spend as much time as they do out of their homes. It is also why the city’s streets are always so packed with people meeting in restaurants, students doing homework in cafes, ladies shopping and people simply wondering around. All the main shops are there, ready to pounce on even the slightest “impulse to buy”.
Although it is easy to assume that many of the small mom & pop shops would not lead e-commerce in Hong Kong, I did have higher expectations from the larger department stores such as Sogo, Pricerite or Wing On (just a few examples). While they all have an online presence, the experience is anything but satisfying and ultimately serve the purpose of giving an ‘idea’ of what is in the shops, opening times and location. The one shining star I have seen so far has been Lane Crawford who seem to have grasped the concept of clear design, good layout and a simple experience that entices online shopping.