Here’s why we didn’t spend a cent on shopping this Singles’ Day
On Singles’ Day this week, many Singaporeans joined the flurry of online shopping, with various e-commerce marketplaces reporting new record sales. Now that the frenzy is over, let’s think about what was spent, and what was saved.
On Singles’ Day this week, many Singaporeans joined the flurry of online shopping, with various e-commerce marketplaces reporting new record sales. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba said its platforms registered US$38.4 billion in sales, easily surpassing 2018’s record of US$30.7 billion.
Now that the frenzy is over, let’s think about what was spent, and what was saved.
Would you have purchased what you did if there were no sales, “cash-backs”, discount codes and virtual currencies offered by Shopee, Qoo10 and Lazada? What does it tell us when consumption has become a cultural festival of its own? What are we truly celebrating?
At the individual level, we may think that Singles’ Day deals offer value for money. But there is a thin line between cheap buys and unnecessary buys.
Many of us would have bought something we don’t really need just because we can’t resist what we think is a bargain. Doing so not only hurts our pockets, but also the environment.
Neither of us bought anything on Singles’ Day. We didn’t want to jump onto the consumer bandwagon and contribute to unnecessary waste. We did not resort to shopping to cope with stress and we did not feel left out as we have found more meaningful alternatives to shopping.
A study revealed that apparel sales from Singles’ Day 2016 in China amounted to 258,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, while packaging and delivery added 52,4000 tonnes of emissions. The Chinese State Post Bureau said that 1.88 billion packages were delivered from Nov 11 to Nov. 16 last year, an annual increase of almost 26 per cent.
With Singles’ Day 2019 hitting new highs in sales numbers, it is safe to say that the number of packages to be delivered this year will be even higher than in 2018. Green groups have warned that waste from China's e-commerce and express delivery sectors could quadruple from 9.4 million tonnes last year to 41.3 million tonnes by 2025 unless action is taken to rein it in.
Unfortunately, the answer does not lie in “green” consumerism either. Switching to environmentally-friendly products makes sense for things that we need. But it can often mislead individuals into buying things they don’t need. Green consumption can also be a response by companies who know that consumers are increasingly attuned to environmental issues.
Alibaba’s branding of this year’s Singles’ Day is testament to this, with announcements of recycling packaging and using renewables to power its cloud servers. However, by encouraging consumerism in the first place, such measures smack of greenwashing.
Whether you’re an environmentalist or not, think about whether your consumption habits have contributed positively to your personal wellbeing. The honest answer is no.
Consumerism and consumption-oriented sharing on social media are linked to anxiety and low self-esteem, based on one survey of 900 university students in Singapore.
Singles’ Day may be over this year but it will return and possibly break sales records year after year. We are also seeing a rise in consumption-oriented festivals like 9.9, 10.10, 12.12, and the like. Given that this is neither sustainable for the planet nor beneficial to our wellbeing, what can we do?
As millennials ourselves, we have trodden the difficult course of resisting excessive consumerism. Initially, understanding the environmental impact of consumerism made us determined to only buy what we need instead of what we want.
But decreasing one’s consumption down to zero overnight is unnecessarily restrictive. We reconciled ourselves to thinking that the solution is not to ignore our wants but to be more innovative in how to satisfy them.
Instead of arranging shopping dates, we seek out other ways of spending our leisure time with our friends, such as discovering less common places in Singapore like farms in Kranji or checking out a new exhibition at the museums. This also makes the experience more varied and interesting. After all, how many malls can one go to before realising that they are all the same?
For material things that our heart truly desires, there are also many alternatives, what with the increasing number of online and offline thrift shops, clothing subscription services and secondhand marketplaces.
The experience may be different from buying something new that’s mass produced, but it comes with the satisfaction of giving a used item a new life and value. Opting to rent items instead of buying them can also reduce the impact on the environment while satisfying some of our wants from time to time.
Within our own social circles, we try to share our personal journeys in making these switches and the benefits of doing so. Some friends are more receptive than others, and this is understandable.
Rather than preaching with a holier-than-thou tone, we seek to share how embarking on a more sustainable lifestyle does not require major sacrifices.
This brings us to our last point about choice. As consumers, we always have a choice. Do we want to be caught up in chasing consumerist aspirations? Or do we want to be creative in the way we deal with our wants and do our bit for the environment?
For us, the choice is clear.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Sammie Ng, a Singaporean studying at the University of Hong Kong, is the co-founder of educational initiative Accommodate and Singapore’s representative to the United Nations Youth Climate Summit. Woo Qiyun is a final-year Environmental Studies undergraduate at the National University of Singapore.