Should one carry on shopping for non-essential items during MCO?
By Sharina Ahmad |   |  Mainstream, Others

By Sharina Ahmad

BUSINESSES providing “non-essential” products and services also want to continue operating during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period. Consumers may also be itching to buy non-essential items via online platforms as they are home-bound.

During the MCO period, all non-essential shops are to close, leaving only a small list of retailers open, including supermarkets and pharmacies.

However, most of the online retailers which are selling non-essential items, are still operating their business and enticing consumers to spend by offering promotions and discounts.

But is buying non-essential items like clothing and homeware a good idea during the MCO period? Will the surge in demand for these items affect the supply and delivery of essential items?

Consumers' Association of Penang president Mohideen Abdul Kader told FocusM that consumers should make responsible financial decisions during the MCO period, which has been extended to April 14.

“They should consider what they need most and spend their money on essential things, not on non-essential stuff because no one knows how long this MCO will last. Even though we can get rid of the virus sooner or later, the economy will take at least more than a year to be normal again,” he said.

He said most workers live on uncertain earnings and some had a pay cut during this critical time. “So buying non-essentials is not a good idea. They need to survive and stay afloat.”

However, for those who can afford it, there’s nothing wrong in buying non-essentials during this time, he added. This can help small businesses to pay their bills and the salary of their employees.

Another concern is, is it safe to handle deliveries? According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the virus can live on surfaces like plastic or steel, hence caution is needed to prevent the spread of the virus.

“The logistics services should be cautioned and pay attention to personal hygiene, such as cleaning and disinfecting their vehicles more regularly. They also need to wear a mask while ferrying passengers or delivering food orders. They should seek medical attention immediately if they are not feeling well. These frontline workers are at high risk,” said Mohideen.

Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) economics and business unit research manager Lau Zheng Zhou told FocusM that every individual has very different consumption behaviour despite the MCO.

“This has a lot to do with taste, culture and income level. So what is considered non-essential for one may not be true for others. Are fresh salmon or coffee capsules essential or non-essential items? What if my smartphone is not working but I still need it for daily communication and work? Is that a non-essential or an emergency purchase?

“Consumers should have the freedom to satisfy their needs and wants. All forms of consumption, essential or not, will directly impact the overall economy,” said Lau.

However, he said consumers should be more cautious about spending because of the less-than-positive economic outlook. “They should reconsider their usual savings level given the ongoing uncertainty.”

Lau questioned why distributors have not been using drone technology. There is a room for technology to step in, he said. Drones can drop items at a certain place for purchasers to pick up themselves.

“But this must not be to the extent where people have to get out of their home frequently and form a crowd to pick up.”

Lau noted that for the last quarter, private consumption and investment grew 8.1% and 4.2% respectively. This goes to show that the demand trend was strong before the MCO. “So, the sooner MCO is relaxed, the (sooner) business can return to normal and demand can be revived.”

A Lazada Malaysia spokesperson said with the evolving Covid-19 situation, its shoppers have been buying more grocery items like food staples, and personal care and household products.

“We also see an increase in demand for teleconferencing and computer accessories, as Malaysians hunt for necessities on Lazada to create a more conducive and productive home working environment.

On March 18, the first day of a nationwide suspension of non-essential activities and business to slow the spread of Covid-19, the government released a guideline providing additional information on what are the essential services that are allowed to carry on, including online shopping.

The Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry’s guideline makes it clear that online shopping is an available option as it is categorised as an essential service.

The ministry said warehouse services that support such online buying-and-selling activities may also continue operating.

Ultimately, shopping online for the things you need or to make your life more comfortable is one of the better ways to keep social distancing. But one has to be mindful not to overdo it when spending on non-essential items so as not to disrupt the supply chain. -- May 26, 2020

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