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Animal Crossing is a social simulation video game series first developed by Nintendo in 2000. A few weeks back, the newest version of the game, New Horizons, was released; it was heavily-hyped, considering the last version was released in 2012. You might have seen it on your Facebook feeds in recent weeks, of people interacting with their animal neighbors in islands that they decorate and build from nothing to something.

 

My girlfriend’s been looking forward to this game for months – it’s really why we bought a Nintendo Switch – so I decided to pre-order a physical copy of the game at the nearest game store. But by the date of the game’s release, March 20, Metro Manila was under enhanced community quarantine, the malls were closed, and there’s no way I could get what I reserved for the foreseeable future.

 

Well, we ended up downloading a digital copy of the game. Only a few weeks later did the store manage to set up a scheme allowing those who pre-ordered to pay via credit card and have the cartridges delivered to their home. As of this writing, I haven’t gotten around to doing so, and my girlfriend’s discouraging me from getting a second copy of the game, even if we both wanted a physical copy.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen many businesses embrace e-commerce in a bid to continue serving their customers (and their employees) while malls are closed and mobility is restricted. The big online players and major retailers have been ready, only restricted by the fluid logistics picture of the ECQ’s early weeks. Now that things have settled a bit, restaurants that wouldn’t otherwise offer delivery have embraced it, which means, if I want to, I can have xiao long bao from Din Tai Fung delivered, for example. Even manufacturers have gotten in on the act, allowing customers to order food and hygiene products directly from the source.

 

Since this so-called “new normal” means public gatherings will remain banned and our concepts of a day (or night) out will not be feasible in the near future, I imagine we will have no choice but to rely even more on e-commerce. It won’t just be about essential items: we will yearn for a sense of normality and familiarity in the coming weeks, and that will mean having, say, Animal Crossing delivered to your home. (And maybe a Nintendo Switch too, if you somehow managed to order one despite the shortage caused both by the pandemic and by people rushing to buy it so they have something to do while stuck at home.)

 

Perhaps you can call this a good problem. The government has been pushing for a wider use of e-commerce for years. In our last event (that felt weird to say), Supply Chain Outlook last February, we had an idea of how wide-ranging plans are to ensure we truly take advantage of what the digital economy has to offer. Already necessity has forced businesses to adapt, taking advantage of existing systems (say, the network of Grab vehicles) to provide customers with more choice and flexibility. On their part, customers are slowly warming up to the idea of e-commerce – and trust between seller and buyer remains a critical part of government efforts to boost the digital economy.

 

Other issues still remain, however. While it is encouraging that logistics providers and delivery services can now operate at full capacity during the ECQ – and there is no more distinction between essential and non-essential goods – it’s still not clear whether we have the means to cope with higher demand. It’s a problem long ago, and it will remain a problem now, particularly as movement is still restricted. Also, the infrastructure that will make transactions move smoothly, and also protect customers from scrupulous sellers, is not yet up to speed. Internet connection, of course, is one. (Ookla’s ranking of global Internet speeds sees the Philippines lagging behind, yet again. We’re 7th among ASEAN nations on mobile, and 6th on fixed broadband, according to the latest rankings published last March.) The systems that deal with complaints still require customers to jump through many hoops. And then there’s the fact that the ecosystem is still more mature in urban areas, meaning a significant chunk of the population is left behind.

 

And then, of course, there’s customer preferences. Some might find it convenient to order things online, but there’s still the thrill of serendipity that you can only get when at a physical store. Yes, we won’t probably have that for a while, but personally, I’d still rather endure long queues to shop at my nearest supermarket rather than order things online. A wider assortment of products, and the ability to truly ponder your purchase, goes a long way in making us feel, well, old normal, in the so-called new normal.

 

All these are good problems, arguably, and we must truly settle these sooner rather than later so we can faster kick the economy back into gear as soon as we can. (With news that our GDP shrunk 0.2% in the first three months of this year, and the full impact of COVID-19 yet to be realized, time is of the essence, pretty much.) As Tom Nook said, “a lovely new horizon awaits us all!”

 

Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications executive of SCMAP, and editor-in-chief of its official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.

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