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Purpose The popularity and persistence of Blogshops raises ethical issues regarding the presentation of the female teenage owners' “self” to others and the relationship they maintain with buyers and other owners. Design/methodology/approach This ongoing observational study of Singaporean Blogshops reveals a layered and interrelated typology of alternative e‐commerce activities that critiques many of the myths associated with e‐commerce particularly the extent and manner in which it can empower consumers. Findings It is argued that Blogshops represent a new formulation of e‐commerce practice that draws upon a rich assemblage that includes readily available and popular digital technologies and an efficient urban public transport system. Research limitations/implications This study is primarily emic in perspective and requires complementary ethnographic research among Blogshopowners and buyers – specifically female teenage Singaporeans. Originality/value The present study introduces the phenomenon of Blogshops to a wider academic and theoried audience through a critical interpretation of observed activities. In doing this the study offers insight into the complex intersection of public transport infrastructure, freely available Web‐based technologies and the significant influence that fashion exerts upon contemporary popular culture.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Blog/shop: it is authentic
so don’t worry^^^
Gordon Fletcher
Information Systems, Organisations and Society Research Centre,
University of Salford, Salford, UK, and
Anita Greenhill
Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
Abstract
Purpose The popularity and persistence of Blogshops raises ethical issues regarding the
presentation of the female teenage owners’ “self” to others and the relationship they maintain with
buyers and other owners.
Design/methodology/approach This ongoing observational study of Singaporean Blogshops
reveals a layered and interrelated typology of alternative e-commerce activities that critiques many of the
myths associated withe-commerceparticularlythe extent and mannerin which it can empower consumers.
Findings – It is argued that Blogshops represent a new formulation of e-commerce practice that
draws upon a rich assemblage that includes readily available and popular digital technologies and an
efficient urban public transport system.
Research limitations/implications – This study is primarily emic in perspective and requires
complementary ethnographic research among Blogshopowners and buyers specifically female
teenage Singaporeans.
Originality/value The present study introduces the phenomenon of Blogshops to a wider
academic and theoried audience through a critical interpretation of observed activities. In doing this the
study offers insight into the complex intersection of public transport infrastructure, freely available
Web-based technologies and the significant influence that fashion exerts upon contemporary popular
culture.
Keywords Electronic commerce, Networking, Consumer behaviour, Passenger transport, Singapore
Paper type Research paper
New e-commerce?
Very early in 2008 one of the authors was contacted by a postgraduate student from a
London University asking a series of questions about Blogshops. After a rapid series of
searches it became clear that these small scale, generally one person e-commerce
operations raised a number of questions that reached far beyond the pivotal question of
the postgraduate student; “Why are Blogshops not popular in the UK” (and by
implication anywhere other than Singapore). The student was duly furnished with
a response suggesting that cultural differences had shaped different levels of
preparedness for teenagers to “play” or “act” as shopkeepers. However, the assumption
of the postgraduate student that the utilisation of a blog as an online shop was both
obvious and a well-known feature of the digital landscape itself provoked questions
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/1477-996X.htm
The authors thank Donna Duncan for her assistance in identifying and “harvesting” the
Blogshops that were examined in this paper.
Blog/shop
39
Received 30 September 2008
Revised 30 October 2008
Accepted 1 December 2008
Journal of Information,
Communication & Ethics in Society
Vol. 7 No. 1, 2009
pp. 39-53
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
1477-996X
DOI 10.1108/14779960910938089
and invited the need for further investigation. As with many contemporary cultural
phenomenon Blogshops are readily observed and an initial survey produced a large
selection of blogs that had become the venues for burgeoning business operations.
The relative newness of Blogshops is revealed in the ambiguity of terminology with
some shopowners preferring to describe them as Blogshops. In this paper, we utilise
the term Blogshops to cover all small scale shops that employ or reference swapping
and spree forms of exchange and that are facilitated through hosted blogging
technologies as their main trading platform.
It became very clear that despite over fourhundred Blogshops being in existence by the
first few months of 2008 all, with very few exceptions, shared a number of features; they
were run by one or two female teenagers who were generally still at college somewhere on
the island of Singapore. This particular fact has been repeatedly confirmed through the
year as the owners of the Blogshops take a break to do their “O” Levels. The shopowners
two blog systems of choice were (and remain) blogspot.com or livejournal.com and it was
evident on a number of the blogs that the shop element of the blog had developed out of a
more conventional use as a personal but very public diary/weblog (Nardi et al.,2004;
McDermott, 2007). What has equally emerged is the relationship of the “virtual” aspects of
a Blogshop to one or more station located on Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transport (MRT)
system and to the use of mobile phones. The majority of Blogshops offer free delivery of
goods to at least one of these stations with most requiring the buyer to have a mobile phone
number to confirm exchange arrangements.
The tone and style of many Blogshops present some immediately obvious and
arguably superficial features that to the casual observer appear to shape their primary
distinctiveness from other forms of blogging and e-commerce (Mariotti and Sgobbi,
2001; Kim, 2005). In some cases the terminology and phrasing of the blogs can be
excruciating and in others unintentionally witty. This is a result of the use of
Singaporean English. At its most extreme Singaporean English with its introduction of
Malay, Mandarin and Tamil words and grammar approaches indecipherability to a
speaker of British or American English but the majority of hosts (the name the
shopowners apply to themselves) employ a form that just appears quirky to those
outside Singapore and suggests they are from better privileged backgrounds (Crystal,
2004, p. 508 and 522). The form of Singaporean English usage, as with elsewhere in the
English-speaking world, is linked to socioeconomic status and ethnicity (Crystal, 2004,
p. 400; McDermott, 2007). These underlying issues of economic status and the financial
capability of the hosts is a consideration in our analysis. The development of
Blogshops through 2008 does however show increasingly complex and confusing
phrasing that indicates the general development of Blogshops has included adoption
among a wider spectrum of Singaporean society (McDermott, 2007). The blend of
language employed on Blogshops coupled with a form of imitation of more formal
e-commerce sites has an element of play and even irony for the hosts including
comments such as “i’m sick of customer without patience”, “5 per cent discount for the
month of your birthday”, “No payment ¼No order” and “If u are late for half an hour,
$1 will be charged! Every additional 15 min, add 50c, after an hour i will just walk off
and an extra $5 will be charged!” Each Blogshopowner makes an effort to offer a set of
“terms and conditions” which, as with the examples above show, often read more like
a blog entry bluntly complaining about the ills of the world in general and the
undisciplined attitudes of their buyers specifically (Argamon et al., 2007).
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These observable features efface the possibility of dismissing Blogshops as “just
another” type of blogging but rather offer a first level of insight into an
anthropologically complex and rich environment that brings together a form of
economic need, locational circumstance, technological capacity and non-ethical
consumer engagement where business adaptation is drawn upon for personal benefit.
What we are looking at in considering the phenomenon of Blogshops is a social and
economic network of teenagers in Singapore (for the moment) who are maximising
their personal economic power and social standing by swapping and buying clothes
and engaging in shopping “sprees” (Bortree, 2006).
MacLean and Blackie, 2005 examined a series of five thematic myths surrounding
what is considered to be conventional e-commerce and the degree to which actual
experience is incongruent. The existence and linear increase in the number of Blogshops
over a relatively sort period of time brings additional meaning and subtlety to each of
these myths and the earlier analysis. Of particular relevance is the positioning of the
ways in which e-commerce has been understood to enable and empower consumers.
The myth that e-commerce is revolutionary is largely dispelled by Blogshops in the way
that they have evolved from existing cultural practices providing a degree of familiarity
for both the hosts and their buyers (MacLean and Blackie, 2005). Even more evident is
the way in which Blogshops dispel the myth of choice and convenience. Blogshops offer
a relatively finite selection of goods that is further reinforced by the hosts and buyers
immurement within current Singaporean teen fashions which arguably actually sets out
to restrict choice. For the hosts actively restricting choice by supporting and encourage
consideration of Blogshop goods through the additional layer and lens of fashion is
highly problematic as their own items have increasingly time-limited appeal to buyers.
MacLean and Blackie (2005) also identify the issue of massive choice (in this case in the
number of Blogshops) necessarily being balanced against known and trusted brands
for buyers this merges with the degree to which any host can be individual trusted to
complete the exchange. MacLean and Blackie (2005) also consider the myth of
information density being a mechanism for empowering consumers and constructing
“better consumer”. They pose the possibility that perhaps “it is the “worse consumer”
rather than the “better consumer” who places greater demands upon a company and so
assumed the position of power or sovereignty”. Many of the examples utilised in this
paper reveal the extent to which hosts must manage “worse consumer” to extent that the
entire tone of some terms and conditions assume that all of their buyers will fall into this
category. The myth of better communications between business and consumers is also
dispelled through examination of Blogshops. This is clearly a consequence of the
ambiguous status between buyers (who could also be hosts) and hosts (who could also
be buyers). Combined with the assumption that all buyers are “worse consumer” and the
minimal levels of trust that are extending by buyers to hosts, it is hard to imagine a
more civil exchange of email than the forms communication between individuals that
are publically inscribed through the Web.
The research perspective
Examining Blogshops beyond any superficial conclusion that can be made from
observed blog postings requires recognition of the relationship of the researcher to the
subjects of their research. The researcher’s perspective regarding the observable
phenomenon will be articulated and explained in a manner that differs in detail from
Blog/shop
41
the explanations that would be offered by the participants themselves. The hosts will
not employ, in the manner that a researcher would, a critical perspective to understand
and position what they are doing within the framework of Singaporean society or the
more global parameters and logic of digital culture. From the researcher’s external
ethic perspective the hosts can be identified as being fully immersed consumers
endeavouring to maximise their consumption and purchasing power through the use of
blogging, mobile phone and public transport technologies. At a wider level Blogshops
enable a form of exchange and commerce that utilises technology to resist the
prevalent forms of capitalist hegemonies experienced online and in Singapore. The
particular configuration of technology encourages forms of recycling and tacit political
resistance to shopping through large retailers that overlays the actual experience of
Blogshop hosts and buyers. For the hosts their motivation is orientated around the
ephemeral and shifting foibles of fashion as it is currently defined in Singapore and
more specifically teenage fashion. For example, “Selling this Cream Shoulder off Long
Sleeve Top at $12!! Size: Free Condition: 10/10 Off shoulder are now sooo HOT in
Taiwan and Hong Kong!!;)” and “Want Something Special? Try this Gothic Style out!
Perfect Piece for Gothic Lolita Lovers!!;D This piece is Something so worth it price;)”
both from candysshopp.blogspot.com. This means the emic perspective of the
Singaporean teens is focused around accumulating the “right” clothes and accessories
while potentially swapping out clothing from their wardrobes to others that has now
fallen out of favour. On charmycloset.blogspot.com the situation is made clear:
Meetups are not advised as im busy in school.
Also, I’m willing to sell off my items at a lower price,
All prices can be lowered,
We can discuss and nego is possible.:D
As I’m in need to clear my wardrobe!:D
So, pplease do help k:D
Also, do look out my for my friends’ items also:D
We’re all in need to clear our wardrobe!:D.
Many of the Blogshops stress that their second-hand clothes have been worn “only
once” or “lightly”. The host at candysshopp.blogspot.com describes some makeup
available from her:
The mascara is not in package as i open it up and found that the colour is not what i want.
The colour is in brownish black.;)
So it’s up for GRABS! Far CHEAPER than the retail price(you can’t find anything cheaper
than $19.90 in the market) and is BRAND NEW!
It has two sides, one for intense length and the other for intense volume!;D
These distinctions of perspective continuously reinforce the presence of an
ethnographic “other” within the research which also emphasises the ethical issues of
this particular research. The observational research reveals that the vast majority of
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Blogshops hosts are female with the youngest who revealed their ages as being 12:
“We’re all coming 13 and moving on to our respective secondary schools soon”.
The oldest was 22 and attending the National University of Singapore. The age of most
of the hosts and the public but secretive manner in which they conduct their activities
(including receiving payment through “concealed cash”) prevents direct contact and
makes interview or surveying techniques problematic. Examination of the public
inscriptions (through words and images) and the circuits of exchange of their artefacts
overcomes some of the ethical issues associated with this research but raises the issue
that reporting the research itself places the Blogshops and their hosts in front of an
audience where they would not normally be exposed. For this reason some of the direct
quotes are not directly attributed when the Blogshops themselves reveal “too much”
personal information (an all too common aspect of many of the Blogshops) (Figure 1)
(Huffaker and Calvert, 2006; Perlmutter and Schoen, 2007). Arguing that the hosts are
not aware of their potentially global audience and that external research increases their
visibility is itself problematic though as some connected blog posts (xiaxue.blogspot.
com/2004/08/dont-like-singapore-fuck-off-and-we.html) suggest at least awareness of a
Singapore-wide audience while continuing to employ regional colloquial terminology
(Bortree, 2006).
Defining Blogshops
Blogshops are readily defined from a technology point-of-view as virtual shops that
utilises hosted blogging systems. But this neatness of precision belies a series of
complexities regarding Blogshop practice. For example, the preference for
blogspot.com and livejournal.com has been consistent throughout the research
period but initially hosts expressed a particular preference for one or other system and
would often refuse to reciprocal link between systems; a significant barrier to the
spread of Blogshops when there is reliance upon reciprocation between satisfied hosts
Figure 1.
Joycelyns-shop.blogspot.
com includes the host’s
name, age, location and
phone number
Blog/shop
43
who have bought and sold amongst one another (Kersten and Teich, 2000). More
recently, any reluctance to use competing systems has almost entirely reversed with a
number of hosts simultaneously maintaining livejournal and blogspot Blogshops. The
use of multiple blogs for a single Blogshop is not itself, however, unusual and can be
regularly found in the majority of those observed. In most cases each blog utilised by
the host represent a specific “department” of their Blogshop including, in a number of
cases, a separate “terms and conditions” blog (Perlmutter and Schoen, 2007). This
usage could be dismissed as a result of technological naivety on the part of the hosts
and this claim might equally be applied to the more general attempt of blogs to conduct
e-commerce. We take a alternative contention by regarding the use of multiple blogs as
a sophisticated adaption of existing technology to a new and unexpected purpose.
The restricted mono-vocal conversation developed through blogs prohibits serious
internal differentiation or sectioning. A separate blog also allows a space for temporary
events and specials that can be readily turned off and disconnected from the main
thread of the Blogshop. deeperfecthouse-tops.blogspot.com currently claims
“INSTOCKS !!! ALL BRAND NEW !!!” while deeperfecthouse.blogspot.com presents
terms and conditions, links and “Ongoing Sprees: Deeperfecthouse Spree #3 Visit
deeperfecthouse.livejournal.com TOO !!! Incoming Sprees: NONE” These and still other
complexities necessitate an attempt to define Blogshops with an understanding that
incorporates the hosts and those who buy from them. Fortunately from a research
perspective, the hosts reveal sufficient information about themselves to build up this
level of understanding. This approach lends itself to the development of a typology of
Blogshops that enables more sophisticated analysis and a mechanism for tracing the
evolution and shifting focus of individual Blogshops.
All the Blogshops are run by teenage females between 13 and 22 (with rare
exceptions such as cl-shop.blogspot.com Figure 2). Most of the Blogshops are hosted
by a single person but there are an increasingly growing minority run by two or more
Figure 2.
CL-SHOP is one of the few
Blogshops with a male
host. The relationship
between the two hosts
remains unclear
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people and in one case, fashion avenue.blogspot.com, there are ten hosts. Hosts are
also “buyers” with many of the Blogshops incorporating a “want list” of desired items
often the latest fashion item and hard to obtain or exclusive brand name accessories
but also more mundane needs are listed such as “a black bag”. The want lists of hosts
also generally reflect the items generally available for sale or sometimes swapping
through the Blogshops; branded clothing, jewellery, electronic goods, fashion contact
lenses, beauty products, handbags, shoes and occasionally magazines and books.
At least one Blogshop has also offered Aloe Vera panty liners. Two significant subsets
of the items available through the Blogshops are second-hand and handmade. The
former group generally represent recycling of the more durable fashion items both in
the sense as a more enduring fashion piece and as a more durable item in themselves
such as jeans. The latter group of items include handmade cards, jewellery and
ceramics (jjsshoppe.blogspot.com) with the occasional hint that the facilities of the
hosts’ high school were involved as well as more unusual items such as cakes
(bubblegum-x.blogspot.com). The hosts’ obsession with accumulating fashionable and
“trendy” items reflect the degree to which they are already thoroughly immersed
consumers and this is only further reconfirmed with the choice of names for their
Blogshops including “shoppiingisgreat”, “adoreshopping”, “wheredreamscometrue”,
“i-want-thesess”, “ilovetheeese” and “prettypeopleclothes” (Bortree, 2006). Other
Blogshops also regularly use terms or references to love, heaven and princesses.
The blog aspects of the Blogshops themselves are not particularly distinctive for their
style, they retain the general look and feel of an “amateurish” blog long pages bloated
with images inappropriately over-sized for web-delivery. However, some of the longer
established Blogshops are increasingly adopting cleaner design principles and a more
disciplined use of imagery. Two features of the Blogshops making them distinctive from
other more conventional Singaporean blogs are the level of personal identity that is
being revealed and the linking policies. There is generally less willingness for hosts to
include their full photos with, instead, photos of torsos, obscured faces, hands and legs
utilised as the platform on which to model the available items (Riegelsberger, 2003).
Blogshops also make “generous” use of images taken from printed and online fashion
catalogues and other Blogshops to complete their blog’s design. One of the few examples
of the hosts incorporating full length photos was myrunway-boutique.blogspot.com
where all three hosts include full length pictures and also reveal that they are students at
the National University of Singapore making them among the oldest Blogshop hosts
that can be identified. Within the fashion and fame conscious culture that the majority of
Blogshops exist there is a clear temptation to “be” or become a model. At least in part as a
consequence many hosts include “mirror photos” photographs they have taken of
themselves with the aid of a mirror with inevitably variable results (Huffaker and
Calvert, 2006). The linking policies of Blogshops reveal the network in which they are
enmeshed and also mirror the exchange of goods between hosts. Some Blogshops link
out to over 100 other Blogshops (Figure 3) while others link out to fewer than ten or none
at all. These distinctions in linking policy are among the most visible of the differences
that can be recognised between Blogshops.
A pivotal defining element of Blogshops which currently restricts the phenomenon to
Singapore is the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) public transport system that covers the
island and is used as the delivery mechanism for purchases and swaps (Ibrahim, 2003).
These are described as meetups. Hosts often indicate a preference for mass meetups
Blog/shop
45
where many exchanges can happen at the same time, individual meetups are generally
conducted with enthusiasm by hosts only when the meetup will provide them with
particularly desired items on their wish list. Hosts will generally list one or two MRT
stations where they are prepared to travel for the delivery for free of goods. Additional
information offered on the blogs such as the high school they attend or the stations they
will travel to for free changes on weekdays show how closely the location of the “free
delivery” stations relate to the hosts’ home address. Change of preferences over
weekends reflects their weekly routines because, as one owner says, “I’m at my
grannies.” A smaller number of hosts are prepared to travel more generously along an
entire line of the MRT for free. Where further personal information is revealed this
largesse is generally connected to the possession of a different MRT pass such as a
season ticket between home and a more remote high school. These additional pieces of
information also reveal that the Blogshop phenomenon is not restricted to a single
college or high school with some hosts taking advantage of neighbouring networks of
Blogshops to acquire rarer items not readily found within their own usual networks. The
rapid wide distribution of Blogshops across Singapore with so many distinct networks
prohibits discovery of a single origin for the phenomenon with a suggestion made on
some of the Blogshops that they may have originally had a connection with the National
University of Singapore’s Students Business Clubs. The earliest Blogshop that could be
definitely dated was daisyloves.livejournal.com “Kindly note that i do not do swaps
from now, as i wanna clear my wardrobe. Sorry..Hope you understand! Thanks!:) Happy
shopping!;)” from June 2005, however, most have start dates from 2007 and 2008.
Trust, meetups and sprees
Blogshops increase a host’s economic independence and raises their cultural
position among peers by obtaining the latest fashion items and desirable rare goods.
Figure 3.
Fashion-aj.blogspot.com
offers a series of “escapes”
to other Blogshops. This is
a more established
Blogshop with some type
of outlet in Singapore’s
Chinatown Complex
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While this may appear as trivial motivation it is indicative of a fame obsessed culture
that is, in part, encouraged by the ready and rapid dissemination of large of amounts of
gossip and imagery through the Web (Argamon et al., 2007). This is reinforced by the
intersection of cultures represented in Singapore but particularly “shared ‘Chineseness’
has meant a common core of attitudes and beliefs of particular significance for the
conduct of society; so pervasive and persistent has been the force of the Chinese
tradition” (Jones, 2007, p. 450). The bias of the “terms and conditions” on Blogshops are
entirely in the hosts’ favour and authored to benefit their desire to accumulate the
arbitrarily right set of goods. Despite being a key feature of Blogshops the terms and
conditions also reveal that meetups are a problematic distribution method for hosts
with each offering different attempts at a solution. The majority of hosts complain
about their buyers wasting their time by being late or not showing up at all to
exchange goods and money. Many insist on the buyer having a valid or pre-confirmed
mobile phone but far more incorporate the right to charge late fees in generally blunt
tones. Robot and Girl (duabui.blogspot.com) says “If you are late without telling me
beforehand, a penalty of 50c/5 min will be charged.” Cutiesweetieslovelycloset.
blogspot.com demands a “$10 charge for cancellations within an hour. $1 will be
charged per minute of lateless after 10 min of waiting.” Xkimiirawrrs.blogspot.com
takes a different a approach by offering to deliver directly to the buyer’s door if the
buyer is prepared to pay the two-way cab fare. These conditions show the importance
of the goods being exchanged as buyers are prepared to oblige the hosts’ conditions
which is even more surprising when it is recognised that many buyers are also hosts
themselves. The onus is very much placed onto the buyer to be in the right place at the
right time implicitly reflecting an underlying cultural belief in the efficiency of the
MRT system.
With the all of the frustrations associated with individual meetups, hosts have turned
to mass meetups drawing on the benefits of what Trendwatching describe as “crowd
clout” (trendwatching.com/trends/crowdclout.htm). By arranging a common time and
date for a group of buyers and hosts to conduct an exchange the vagaries of an individual
participant is diminished and the dangers of meeting an anonymous buyer are removed.
The crowd clout of a mass meetup increases its impact and the opportunity to more
readily satisfy the hosts’ needs which remains the primary rationale for Blogshops.
Crowd clout also motivates the hosts to organise “sprees” which take the crowd
clout of mass meetups and extends the economic reach of hosts who appear to work
with little or no capital beyond the current economic networks of exchange that exist
on the island. A spree a shopping spree is the opportunity to participate in a bulk
purchase of desired items from outside Singapore, usually Hong Kong, Korea or
Taiwan. All countries, together with Singapore, that are described collectively by Jones
(2007) as Oikonomic Welfare States. The sprees close after they are fully subscribed
and in at least some situations have already been paid for by each individual customer.
The fee that is paid is determined by the host and is generally lower than the retail cost
of the item in Singapore itself but the actual cost is never revealed to the buyers. The
order is then placed and the items are delivered through a mass meetup which places
the responsibility on the buyer to collect their goods on the hosts conditions. Many of
the terms and conditions specify that the host cannot take any responsibility for the
delivered goods. The now defunct “Robot and Girl” Blogshop again offered indicative
terms for many of the Blogshops:
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47
Please pay attention to the T&C before buying anything from me. Don’t come and complaint
to me anymore, saying it’s my fault to be unaware of the defects. Come on lah, if you bought
ten items from me, am I going to check one by one and see if the item is damaged? I’m not so
free okay. So please, CHECK YOUR ITEM WHEN WE MEET, only is that so, YOU SHOW
ME THE DEFECT YOU FOUND WHN WE MEET, and I witness it, I will then refund you
OR change another one for you. && If you threaten me to go to your place of convenience for
free just because of the stupid defect which is none of my business, DREAM ON. IF I ALLOW
YOU TO CHANGE THE ITEM THAT IS NOT MY FAULT, YOU MUST COUNT
YOURSELF LUCKY ALREADY. It’s really beyond my limits to go to your place for free.
The combination of sprees, meetups and the general quality of goods offered all raise the
issue of trust on the behalf of both buyers and hosts (Teo and Liu, 2007). Many of the
hosts are keen to identify the fact they are not “scammers” and that they blacklist any
buyers who are identified as being such, both at their own blog and at other Blogshops
within their close network. This trust relationship exists on a range of unexpected
levels for e-commerce. For example, Lelongg.blogspot.com includes the statement that
“sluts are not allowed to buy things from my blogshop” although it is unclear how the
host will determine or police this condition at a meetup. This statement is made all
the more surprising when it is simultaneously claimed that her jewellery is “suitable for
school and amazing clubbing session”. Trust is also established through the network of
buyers who are hosts. This does raise the possibility for one network to advocate a
particular Blogshop who is actually banned from being a buyer on another network.
Basic-tees.blogspot.com currently offers these shoutouts:
THREE CHEERS FOR THATGARAG-EEE@BS.COM!
HER SERVICE ¼GOOD & EFFICIENT HER STUFFS SUPER ADDICTIVE!
DO VISIT HER!!
–––––––––––––––––––
CHEERS FOR SHOPIINGISGREAT@BS.COM
SUPER EFFICIENT TOO.
ITEMS ARE UP TO STANDARD
–––––––––––––––––––
THREE CHEERS FOR YOUR-SATISFACTION-PLACE@BS.COM
SUPER EFFICIENT & SUPER NICE GIRL.
ITEMS ARE NICE TOO
VISIT HER OR ITS YOUR LOSS
None of these claims or counterclaims can be easily verified except through personal
knowledge of the buyer and host networks that emerge. Ultimately for many of the
hosts as their Blogshop has developed and expanded many now refuse to do meetups
of any sort and will only work on the basis of posting once payment has been received
in effect, a conventional e-commerce model for overcoming issues of trust or rather
its lack (Essler and Whitaker, 2001; Teo and Liu, 2007). This places the responsibility
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of establishing trust entirely in the hands of the host. Despite the proliferation of
Blogshops few hosts have also adopted more conventional approaches for
establishing this trust by, for example, advertising the length of time they have
been operating, instead hosts have chosen to use claims such as that used by
awesome-highway.blogspot.com, “I am nice I don’t bite”. The necessities of crafting
trust do not obliterate the central premise of Blogshops to benefit the hosts and yet a
number of the better established sites are now claiming to be making a lose. The
conventional balances and relationships of communicative authority and commercial
power to personal consumption have become altered with Blogshops. The terminology
of Blogshops reveals this blend of sentiment with use of bloggers terms such as
MIA-ing (missing in action) and wholesale terms such as FOC (free of charge). Hosts
are imitating the tone and language of conventional commerce but remain motivated
by a desire for consumption without the mediating process of accumulating profit in
order for them to buy goods commercially. At a simplistic level this means that each
additional cost associated with the exchange is directly and transparently passed onto
the buyers including transport, the cost of labour (expressed through the time a host
waits at an MRT station) and loses incurred by non-payment of goods. Few Blogshops
offer an all-in-one cost for purchasing an item (as would be done in conventional
commerce or e-commerce) making the exchange error-prone and offering (too) many
opportunities for buyers to negotiate. These complexities can be effaced with the use of
swaps. However, in the relatively closed networks of exchange the availability of
“new” items can quickly become restricted and the benefits of swaps diminished.
A classificatory typology of Blogshops
Examination of the Blogshops that specify where delivery is free is geographically
scattered across the island’s populations centre located outside the city centre of
Singapore itself. This distribution generally reflects the regional population densities
except where there is a predominantly older population (Geok, 2000). More
significantly the most popular MRT stations for free delivery correlate closely with
the location of the semi-independent girls’ colleges on the island reinforcing the
observation that there are circuits of exchange centred upon and potentially even
within individual schools. The influence of the School environment is all the more
significant in light of the work by Ping et al. (2003) that reveals generally high uptake
of IT in Singapore as a result of phased planning by the government and generally
higher levels of IT culture and use among independent autonomous schools.
Participation in the independent and semi-independent sector of schooling in
Singapore also reveals an economic capability as “Right from the introduction of the
independent schools scheme there was strong public criticism over its elitist nature and
the high fees charged by the schools”. (Tan, 2000, p. 6)However, despite sharing a
generally common sentiment focused around accumulation and common participation
across Singapore not all hosts and their Blogshops are at the same point of
development. Observation over time has also indicated that Blogshops evolve along a
generally similar trajectory as the hosts become more experienced, accumulate more
goods and gain access to larger amounts of cash.
The most difficult stage of the development of Blogshops to identify is their initial
beginnings. New Blogshops are constantly appearing as fully formed concepts
drawing on the style of pre-existing Blogshops. Earlier Blogshops appear to have
Blog/shop
49
formed more informally out of conventional blogging activity (Nardi et al., 2004; Kim,
2005) with the development of wish lists of desired clothing or lists of items that were
superfluous to the host’s requirements. Many hosts were buyers first.
The burgeoning Blogshop is hallmarked with a preparedness for individual meetups
and swaps. In this stage of development the host still display a sentiment closer to that of
a buyer than that of more established hosts. At 0reocheesecake.blogspot.com “SWAPS
are acceptable, unless stated otherwise” but this generosity is moderated by the
additional statement that “If you initiate the swap, it will have an additional charge of $3
on top of the stated price for the particular item.” effectively making it unclear as to
whether the exchange is a swap or a purchase. Similarly at crownedauctions.blogspot.
com, “SWAPS ARE WELCOMED(PROVIDED THAT I AM INTERESTED IN YOUR
ITEM).” and “PRICES OF ITEMS ARE INCREASED(STATED) WHEN DOING
SWAPS REGARDLESS OF WHO INITIATED IT.”
The difficulties of meetups and the imprecision of swapping for maximum benefit of
the host encourages further development towards mass meetups and sprees. The
language the hosts employ for their goods shift towards imitation of retail outlets such
as those at cometomyshop.blogspot.com where “ALL PREORDERS!!! all clothes are
100 per cent material guarenteed!!” and mis-matchnmix.blogspot.com where “for any
enquires or orders all items are BRAND NEW otherwise stated price are NON-NEGO
as they are of the lowest we can offer NO SWAP is allowed all price are
EXCLUDE POSTAGE.” Many Blogshops at this stage of development emphasise
that their goods are currently trendy in respected but exotic destination such as
Hong Kong or Japan. Skinny jeans and Cookie Monster t-shirts have both been
particularly popular items that have almost become iconic for the stage of a Blogshops
development.
Four different trajectories have now emerged from this point of development. The
earliest was the movement towards a more conventional e-commerce operation with
“standard” new fashion and no second-hand or handmade items with delivery through
the mail after a payment has been received. In a small number of isolated cases the
Blogshop has become a private site requiring a password that supplies other
Blogshops effectively avoiding the need for sprees or meetups. The relative rarity of this
form of wholesale Blogshop suggests that the capital investment required to import and
distribute fashion without pre-paid buyers is still beyond the reach of the majority of
hosts. An increasingly common route for Blogshops is to go MIA some cite the need to
complete “O” levels or other forms of impending examination. For others Blogshops the
hosts lifestyle now preclude a full-time commitment while also revealing a large degree
information about their day to day activities. Kittydaniel.blogspot.com is
well-established but the host regularly posts an “away” notice with a changing
graphic. Other Blogshops reach a point where they are simply clearing out their
wardrobe and show absolutely no interest in any further swapping or meetups.
This tentative typology suggests that there is a progression through the roles of
“buyer”, “swapper”, “spree-er” and from there onto the role of either “shopowner”,
“wholesaler”, “MIA” or “clearance seller”.
Blogshops: future e-commerce
This paper has shown that Blogshops represent a new formulation of ecommerce
practice motivated by a desire for consumption initially without the mediating process
JICES
7,1
50
of accumulating profit. In 2008, there are over four hundred Blogshops being run by
one or two female teenagers who were generally still at college somewhere on the
island of Singapore. The rapid development of Blogshogs has enabled a commonality
and evolution of individual experience enabled by a rich assemblage of technology,
culture and location. This particular assemblage incorporates readily available and
popular digital technologies, an efficient urban public transport system and mobile
phone usage. The shopowners’ technology of choice, the blog, is an adaptation beyond
more conventional uses as a personal public diary. Blogshop hosts employ a form of
language that, while appearing quirky to those outside Singapore, suggests they are
from better privileged backgrounds and any money they earn from these activities is
personal “pocket money” rather than a contribution to a household income (Argamon
et al., 2007).
Looking beyond the possibility of dismissing Blogshogs as “just another” form of
Web-based communication or social network this paper has illustrated that Blogshops
offer the first level of insight into a complex anthropologically rich environment that
brings together a form of economic need, locational circumstance, technological
capacity. Importantly in the Singaporean Blogshops the pivotal defining element is the
incorporation of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) public transport system that covers the
island and is used as the delivery mechanism for purchases and swaps (Ibrahim, 2003).
Meetups are the physical location for economic and goods exchange to take place. The
complexity of organising sprees, meetups and the general quality of goods offered by
hosts all raise the issue of trust. Hosts often reveal their personal phone number, name,
general location, sometimes photographs of themselves and in a few cases their
banking account details (for the purpose of buyers transferring funds to them). Yet
despite this level of intimacy hosts (and particularly spree-ers) imitate the tone and
language of conventional commerce while remaining singularly motivated by a desire
to directly consume without the mediating process of accumulating profit. The
engagement between hosts and buyers and the range of images the Blogshops employ
all reflect a complex cultural relationship that extends beyond “simple” commercial
exchange (Riegelsberger, 2003). Blogshops offer significant insight into a broader
series of contemporary cultural experiences including the meaning and extent of
e-commerce and social networking, forms of globalised youth culture, the imprecise
influences of the foibles of fashion and shifting mainstream attitudes towards
self-representation. While our discussion focuses around cultural practices in
Singapore, current financial uncertainty in the US and in Europe offer the potential
for the Blogshop to gain in popularity in a wider range of situations. In the US, the idea
of swapping clothes is being presented as a cost effective and green alternative to retail
consumption. For example:
Avid shopper Jolia wanted to find a way to scratch her retail itch while being environmentally
conscious. The perfect solution? Shopping in your girlfriends’ closets! (health.yahoo.com/
beauty-videos/how-to-host-a-frock-swap/capessa – 171_joliae.html).
In the UK, BBC2 has produced “Twiggy’s Frock Swap”:
Sixties British supermodel Twiggy, heads up a team of fashion experts in a new series that
sees 100 women donating their clothes to a huge clothes-swapping extravaganza. Inspired by
the US craze of clothes-swapping parties, each week the series will see a group of women
Blog/shop
51
being invited to Twiggy’s studio to get a new wardrobe that costs nothing. (http://uk-tv-
guide.com/pick-of-the-day/7-10-2008/fashion-twiggys-frock-swap-wardrobe-warriors/).
The observable complexities that are being dealt with by the teenage hosts of the
Singaporean Blogshops offer insight into what is becoming a more widely experienced
cultural phenomenon.
The blogshop phenomenon has provided significant insight into a broad series of
contemporary cultural experiences including the meaning, multiplicity and extent of
e-commerce and social networking (Mariotti and Sgobbi, 2001), the formation of a type
of globalised youth culture, the imprecise influences of the foibles of fashion, shifting
mainstream attitudes towards self-representation and grassroots expression of
consumer empowerment on the Web. The paper has presented specific examples of the
significance of technological and cultural difference and how they have shaped
different levels of preparedness for teenagers to “play” or “act” as shopkeepers on the
web. The examples discussed in the paper have shown how Blogshops are not “just
another” type of blogging, but rather offer a first level of insight into an
anthropologically complex and rich environment that brings together a form of
economic need, locational circumstance, technological capacity and non-ethical
consumer engagement. Lastly, the paper has shown how the Blogshop phenomenon
enables shopowners to utilise localised knowledge, grassroots business practices,
consumer empowerment and non-ethical social engagement all for personal benefit.
References
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Corresponding author
Gordon Fletcher can be contacted at: g.fletcher@salford.ac.uk
Blog/shop
53
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