Chinese New Year: an uncertain future for Taipei’s street markets

Taipei Street Market

A hot and noisy (熱鬧/rènào) atmosphere in my local neighborhood street markets this morning as people made their last-minute purchases in preparation for this evening’s Chinese New Year Eve feast. Plenty of fresh and succulent meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit to choose from in the busy stalls!

While Taipei’s traditional street markets have managed to survive competition from supermarkets and convenience stores like 7-11, they are facing a growing threat even at peak holiday times as the result of the growing popularity of meal delivery apps that transport fully-prepared meals directly to people’s homes. Why bother to go to all the trouble of searching out all the ingredients for dinner in a crowded market when you can tap a few images on your phone screen and relax with your family while you wait for the dishes to arrive?

Taiwan meal delivery app

As 7-11 and its convenience store rivals roll out fully-automated cashier-less stores throughout the island, the traditional markets will face even great competition. While the first stage of this roll-out will no doubt be focused on making the daily shop even faster and more convenient than it is now, the systems that are being deployed to make cashier-less free shopping possible will generate so much consumer data that the companies will be able to transition from simply shifting products to developing highly-personalized services.

Chinese New Year fruit

It doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine 7-11 offering a family Chinese New Year banquet that has been specifically optimized to cater for the specific taste, dietary, and health needs of each member. Once all the relevant data is assembled, it will simply be a matter of tweaking the supply chain.

While the traditional neighborhood markets won’t disappear any time soon, their long-term prospects are bleak unless they develop new ways of attracting younger consumers to replace their older (and dwindling) customer base. As previous tech transitions have shown, for all the lamentations you hear about the disappearance of the old ways, people prize convenience above anything else.

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