Exit Sainsburys, enter Monoprix

Marketplace by Jasons (your actual upmarket Wellcome) started stocking Sainsburys products less than three years ago (early 2017). 

It doesn’t seem to have been a big success. According to this link, they now only stock 10 of their fresh and frozen products, and only 100 items in total (compared with at least double that in 2017).  

The good people at Dairy Farm (owners of Wellcome, Market Place, Olivers and 3hreeSixty) have moved on, and are now seeing other foreign retailers: 

  • French cheeses, meats and, er, pasta from Monoprix (France) at better prices than the disappeared Sainsburys products
  • and IKEA meatballs, salmon, etc.  Yes, really.  But not so surprising when you realize that Dairy Farm operate the IKEA stores in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, ParknShop have started stocking products from Woolworths (Australia), and of course they also have been selling French and British supermarket brands (Casino & Waitrose) for quite a long time.        

ParknShop do seem to be making rather tentative attempts to develop their own brand, Food Nation (including those “Special Offer” eggs).  But for now, both they and Wellcome seem to have far more faith in other retailers’ own brands than their own.

Making life inconvenient

Having promised not to provide a running commentary on the Hong Kong protests, here are a few thoughts on recent developments.

The latest government strategy seems to be to make life as inconvenient as possible for everyone, in the hope that this will turn people against the protestors.

The MTR has been closing stations that would have been useful for protestors, which was bad enough, but then last night they closed the whole network and today there is only one line open (the Airport Express) and that is only serving two stations.

On 1st October they closed many shopping malls, and the same trick has been repeated today.

In Hong Kong, we often walk through shopping centres to get from one place to another, and many subways under or over main roads are either part of an MTR station or a shopping centre.  So even though there are buses operating, you may not be able to get to the bus stop. 

Oh, and they closed Kowloon Park as well.

Hong Kong people are not stupid.  They know that all of this is being done by the government.    

Unexpected item in the bagging area

When I opened my wallet I realized that my credit card was missing. 

After a few moments of panic, I remembered that I must have left it inside a self-service till.  Indeed I had - unfortunately it was 50 miles away in a different city (at a branch of the UK’s worst high street retailer). 

When I returned to the store, the manager asked me to choose from a selection of cards that had been left in the machine, which made me feel a little bit less foolish (though not much).  This was a few years ago, and contactless cards (and Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc.) now make things easier.  But there was still that annoying message, which can be roughly translated as "Hey, someone is trying to steal something." 

Apparently Tesco have changed it to something less aggressive, but I still don't like machines talking to me, thanks all the same. 

It's taken a while, but now they are appearing all over Hong Kong, and in a surprising development the self-service tills recently installed in most ParknShop stores in Hong Kong keep quiet about what they think I might be stealing.  

It's not all good news.  ParknShop apparently think it would be amusing to make the customer identify any loose fruit and vegetables by searching through a series of flashcards that are placed next to the till.  Small children are, needless to say, attracted to them much as moths are to a bright light, with equally untidy results.  Wouldn't it be easier to just have images on the screen like everyone else?

So it's safe to say that self-service tills are here to stay.

Spare a thought, though, for Howard Schneider, who developed some of the earliest self-service tills, but who sold his company for a fraction of what it is worth today.  If you want to know more, this podcast from Planet Money is worth a listen.

And today's Cantonese is the name of that ubiquitous supermarket chain: 百佳 baak3 gaai1 (which can be translated as "100s of good things").  No parking, no shopping.

The French Hospital

Spike is back in Hong Kong, having been forced to retire from his job in the Philippines because of the local laws.  Which was quite a surprise to him (and to most people, I guess)

He had to go to the hospital: One of the Dumbest Things I’ve Ever Done

I was surprised that a visit to the emergency ward now costs HK$180 (roughly US$23.50). Of course that’s just a fraction of what it probably costs in the U.S. but even so, five years ago I’m sure it was just HK$100. That’s a big jump in 5 years. Have people stopped betting on the horses? Are HK hospitals charging retaliatory tariffs to U.S. patients?

Obviously the last part isn't true.  That's the rate for holders of a Hong Kong ID card (others have to pay HK$1,230).  But he's right that it was increased from HK$100 about two years ago.

I confess to not fully understanding the charges for healthcare in Hong Kong.  Visiting a GP seems quite expensive, especially considering the "three-minute-visit/five-bags-of-pills policy".   But last time I visited a specialist (in a private hospital) it cost less than Spike paid for his visit to an emergency room.  I suppose that a visit to the hospital pharmacy would increase the total cost, but I was paying for this myself, and I know a better solution for that.

And I can add to my list of places in Hong Kong where the commonly used Cantonese name is totally different from the English name - St Teresa's Hospital (聖德肋撒醫院) is known as "faat gwok yi yun" (法國醫院).  Look it up.

Farewell to Honest Bee

Honest Bee, sorry that you are closing down.
I placed several orders with you
But items were always missing
Or the wrong item was delivered
So, honestly, I'm not surprised

My last order was for five products. They only delivered one of them. One!

Then there was the time when I happened to go to the supermarket a few days after another order had been delivered (with several products missing), and miraculously I was able to find most of those items on the shelves.  

To be fair, I only used Honest Bee to order Tesco products (from uSelect).  And they only ever had a partial selection of Tesco products available.  

But why didn't they have the full range of products? Why didn't they know what was actually available?  Why were some products frequently shown as available when there was no stock?  But, hey, sometimes I took advantage of this by ordering these products to reach the minimum order value.

Another obvious flaw with their system was that if (for example) I placed an order on Wednesday for delivery on Saturday, I couldn't order anything that was out of stock on Wednesday, and they couldn't deliver anything that was out of stock on Saturday.  And there was no way for me to request a product that was out of stock on Wednesday but actually available on Saturday.


SF Express - EF Lockers

imageThe instructions are in English.

But the touchscreen isn’t.

So, that icon on the ‘pick up procedure’ with an arrow pointing up…

This one:


Don’t see anything like on the touchscreen.

imageGotta be the green one with an arrow pointing up?


It’s the orange one with an arrow pointing down.

Now, yes, since you mention it, the Chinese characters 取件 do appear in the instructions and on that orange button.  So if you can recognize Chinese you can get this far.

There are, of course, more screens to navigate - all of them in Chinese.  Trial and error seems to work.  Eventually.

The £2.37 shop

Poundworld in the UK has closed down.  The closest equivalent here is Japan Home Centre, which used to be the "10 dollar shop", but quietly dropped that concept (in 2001, apparently).  When Poundworld tried to do something similar in 2016, it didn't go well:

Not so penny-wise: the last days of Poundworld

“Each week we would be rolling out new shelving bays as ‘manager’s specials’, where prices were written by hand, and customers would say: ‘I thought this was supposed to be a pound shop.’”

...and maybe that was the beginning of the end.  Of course, the concept made a lot more sense 20 years ago:

[Chris] Edwards [who launched Poundworld] writes in his book of a trip to China in 1997: “I would see stuff I had bought from wholesalers in Britain for 55p and it would be for sale to us for 25p. It was exciting!”

Two obvious problems here: £1 in 1997 is equivalent to around £1.78 today, and the RMB is 33% higher than it was 21 years ago.  So it should be "the £2.37 shop".  Well, maybe not.

Yes, you can sell smaller packs at the same price (which they did), but that's an expensive change to make (and customers may notice this and complain, whereas small price increases are not so obvious).

To be fair, their similarly named rival is still in business, though they have also faced challenges.

At one point, Poundland almost had to stop stocking reading glasses, one of its biggest sellers. “We had to work very hard with our supplier,” says Nick Agarwal, a consultant at the chain. “They took out metal parts from the spring hinge in the arms and changed production to produce the plastic in each pair in one go.”

In Hong Kong, Living Plaza sell reading glasses (and most of their other products) for HK$12.  Not quite so snappy as 10 or 1, but I suppose it works for them.

Or you can go crazy at the "Ten Dollar Store" and pay HK$89.90 (but, hey, you also get a plastic case).  Oh, and that annoying jingle played in a continuous loop.

And (from that same Guardian article) this is hardly a new idea:

In 1884, a Polish-Jewish migrant called Michael Marks opened Penny Bazaar in Leeds. His slogan was: “Don’t ask the price, it’s a penny”. Marks joined Tom Spencer, a bookkeeper, and, by 1900, Marks & Spencer had 36 Penny Bazaars. Eventually, the pair began moving away from fixed pricing and began trading under their own names.

If you want to know more about the history of M&S, try here.

Hong Kong’s worst app - The Gulu

imageMore than 18 months ago I complained about The Gulu.  They’re still at it, forcing you to upgrade the app when all you want to do is book a table.

This time they excelled themselves by making the old version of the app disappear from the Home Screen.

So first I have to find the app (good luck with that - it used to be called “Food Gulu” but then they renamed it to “The Gulu”, which means absolutely nothing to me). 

Then they ask me to setup a user ID and password.  Why do you need that when you already have my phone number? 

Then I discover that they have cleverly hidden my list of favourite restaurants, and the search engine has never heard of the name I entered.  Ah, stupid me, I had included a space between two words, so obviously that’s not going to work.

I just want to book a table.  How hard can that be?

Dim Sum rituals

Whilst having Dim Sum today I watched the lady at the next table carefully cleaning all the cups, bowls and chopsticks (using the tea and hot water provided by the restaurant).

The problem is that once you notice people doing this you can’t help but observe that most people who do this (and many restaurant staff) handle cups, bowls and chopsticks quite indiscriminately.  So we have to hope that their hands are really clean.  

I wrote about this several years ago, and these were the explanations offered in the comments:

  1. There’s a lot of TB in Hong Kong.  Which is true:
  2. Restaurants use bleach to wash everything, and it needs to be rinsed off.

    Another comment was that a brief wash with hot water is unlikely to kill many germs, which must be correct (for that you’d need water that is actually boiling).

    So if you are really a germaphobe you should probably stay at home.