Friday, February 17, 2023
9.30 – 11.00 am
Payap Life Long Learning Center
Expressing “Thainess” at 7-Eleven
7-Eleven stores are strikingly important in modern Thai life. Over a couple of decades their significance has become increasingly clear to the presenter. One obvious indicator is the ubiquity of their distinctive red, white, green, and orange signs across the country. Their importance is also demonstrated in less obvious ways:
- Former rice farmers now purchase their former crop at raan sewen.
- Rural dwellers rate the modernity of their community based on the presence or absence of a store.
- Thais of all religious and ethnic groups are frequent customers.
- Members of the Buddhist majority are likely to “attend” their neighborhood store more often than they attend their
- And TV commercials for consumer products routinely note the availability of beauty products or snacks at the nearby 7-Eleven.
The approach used does not rely on surveys, statistical analysis or detailed interviews. Instead, insights are based on observation, rumination and photography during random visits to a cross-section of stores in Chiangmai and` rural areas. Five stores that are diverse in location and customer base–“hip urban,” “university- and highway- adjacent,” “peri-urban market complex,” “rural market area,”, and “genuinely rural”—provide rich opportunities for rumination and comparison.
Topics covered correspond roughly to the geography of products for sale at representative raan sewen. For example:
- Just inside the door of any 7-Eleven there is a supply of “urgent need” items—condoms, batteries, diarrhea and headache remedies.
- Behind the cash counter customers find an impressive array of hard liquor and wine, with beer in a distant cooler.
- Many stores also have elaborate coffee-making equipment behind the counter, where customers order hot americanos or iced lattes. Other stores, perhaps with a different customer base, lack this service.
- In any 7-Eleven the most important products are snacks on open shelves and microwave-ready prepared dishes found in freezer cases. [Dozens of YouTube videos examine these products.]
- And there are dozens of other product lines worthy of examination and speculation: dairy products, baked goods, grooming and beauty items for women and men, peripheral equipment for mobile phones and computers, children’s toys, soft drinks, juices, bottled water, and miscellaneous-and-surprising items.
Individual items and product lines are examined from a variety of viewpoints: Does a product reflect Thai traditional culture, or adaptations of tradition, or adoption of global culture, or brilliant innovations? Are there urban/rural differences in stocking particular items? Or are class or age differences reflected in particular items found on shelves?
The presentation will examine 7-Eleven stores and their customers from a number of viewpoints. The purpose is not to present final conclusions, but to observe, speculate, and stimulate discussion. After I have my say, I hope audience members will enrich this session by offering their own observations and speculations.
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