This Online Store Sells Everything, Including Life Advice
The first time I found solace in a stranger online, I was 15.

I remember the sweet melody of dial-up; the whirrs, pings, and clicks transporting me to forums, blogs, and instant messaging chat rooms for a few hours every day. Before social media, these were the only avenues to meet new friends.

When conversations went well, strangers would turn into confidants. Knowing we’d probably never meet beyond the computer screen empowered us to share our problems and seek advice that we might never have done with people we knew in real life.

Today, we meet new people all the time through social media and dating apps. Yet the one avenue I’d never considered using to befriend someone was an online shopping platform.

That is, until one day when I was on Shopee browsing for cutlery and crockery for my new place.

Moving out by 28 has always been a life goal. But like all big life decisions, the fear of messing this up paralyses me.

While it can be a great comfort to have someone familiar tell you that everything will be fine, there’s nothing like a vote of confidence from an objective perspective. And I couldn’t think of a better source than the vendors I was approaching to furnish my humble abode.

So I made up my mind to speak to the first vendor whose products I was interested in. The subject: everything a big move entailed.

I didn’t need to wait long. As I was scrolling through the site, I was instantly taken by the functional and beautiful dinnerware collection with marble effects sold by @lovera_collections, a store selling well-designed crockery and tableware.

As I might be moving into a new place with a grandparent, I wanted to understand if the dinnerware collection was suitable for the elderly.

Soon enough, I found out that you might have exciting life plans, but no one is under any obligation to share your enthusiasm.

Since kitchenware can make a house feel like a home, I imagined that @lovera_collections would be used to customers sharing their joy at moving into a new home or reinventing their kitchen. As such, I expected a personalised response.

But I was let down just as quickly as I’d felt excited about the dinnerware collection.

The replies from @lovera_collections didn’t give me as much comfort and confidence to start a new life as I’d hoped.

Sure, my concerns had been heard. But I wasn’t satisfied. Having occasionally spent 30 minutes in a store just getting to know the shopkeeper’s business, family background, and generally being extra kaypoh about their life, this lack of ‘success’ at getting an online vendor to open up only ignited a new sense of purpose.

The purpose was now to connect on a level that went beyond a transactional relationship, for no reason at all than to walk away with a memorable shopping experience.

As someone who generally hates shopping because it bores me to tears, the only instances I enjoy myself are the times I manage to have a deeper conversation with the store owner.

And so I decided I was damn well going to get life advice from a shop vendor.

As some of my friends had informed me, moving out can inspire you to reinvent all other aspects of your life, including your personal image. While I regularly exercise and do my best to eat healthily, I’d also been recently intrigued by dieting techniques.

Having once tried a juice cleanse, I concluded that it wasn’t up my alley, although the novelty of dieting still appealed to me.

Besides enjoying the anticipation of waiting to see if a diet plan would work, let’s be real: looking better wouldn’t hurt. As women, we’re also more frequently subjected to the pressures of society, family, and our relationship partners to look a certain way. Accordingly, this pressure shapes our own standards of beauty.

I eventually found @skinnymintofficialstore, which sold an apparently effective ultimate teatox. I approached the vendor asking whether it would improve my love life.  

At first, @skinnymintofficialstore’s advice was professional and formal.

Then I remembered that when I was younger, I only ever made friends online by letting the other person know that I specifically wanted their help. Most people, as far as I know, like to feel needed, and so they rarely refuse to extend a helping hand when they’re explicitly asked.

After receiving the above response, I told @skinnymintofficialstore that I needed an unbiased perspective of my problem, and that they were just the person to give it.

Success…! Sort of.

Their response was slightly more thoughtful this time. Despite the lengthier message, it still somewhat centred around the products they were selling.

When you’re trying to connect with people, the frustration of not being able to ‘break through’ their walls often comes from holding yourself back.

And so with the next vendor, @evolutionaryslimming, I decided I needed to be less formal. I broached the same previous scenario: slimming down to improve my love life.   

I stuck to this because women often struggle with microaggressions and attacks on our self-esteem from partners, even in supposedly loving and supportive relationships. As a society, we don’t talk about these instances openly enough, and I wanted to see how vendors who sold products that could fuel these behaviours would react to these issues.

Surprisingly, @evolutionaryslimming’s initial reply was more forthcoming than I expected.

Their subsequent replies were just as candid.

After chatting for a while, I wanted to know if I was the only annoying oversharer who brought up my own issues when I was buying their products, or if there were other people who were also looking for someone to share their problems with on the app. After all, the seamless chat function made me feel like I was chatting with a friend.

Then @evolutionaryslimming started sharing another customer’s positive story—another unexpected surprise. After the slow and bumpy start to having vendors open up, this vendor’s candour was refreshing.

I could tell that we were getting increasingly comfortable with each other, which helped the subsequent banter.

Alas, @evolutionaryslimming was, despite all of his/her/its kindness, still a salesperson. No matter the paths I tried leading the conversation, it would inevitably lead back to the product.

If I was half as determined in life as @evolutionaryslimming was at pushing their supplements, my problems would probably vanish.

I was on the fence about buying the supplements, and I think @evolutionaryslimming could tell. So I figured that was the end of our conversation after it petered off.

When they checked in the next day, I realised I should’ve given them more credit. At this point, I truly wasn’t interested in the supplements anymore; I’d just wanted to see if I could get life advice from shop vendors.

I was also feeling kind of shitty for taking up so much of their time when I wasn’t planning to buy anything. Essentially, I was doing that little dance both customer and shopkeeper do in brick and mortar shops, where the customer feigns prolonged interest in a product only to eventually put it down and walk out after asking a million questions.

Nonetheless, I had a feeling I was going to get a ‘breakthrough’ soon.

I was right.

Just like that, I was reminded of the moments when I would get a reply from the strangers I reached out to online, especially if I had shared a problem and gotten an empathetic response.

When I recall making friends online at a young age, I don’t remember the ones that didn’t work out. Being able to connect with a complete stranger for a single moment can override every other ‘failed’ interaction.

At the end of everything, we’re all just looking for someone to listen. While we don’t expect the connection to last beyond a few hours of being on common ground, just knowing you’re not alone can be powerful.

All it took was an online shopping platform with sellers who go above and beyond to tackle my problems for me to recall why I enjoy getting to know new people, whether on this job or in my social life.

As for actually getting stuff for my new place, I ended up only buying a $2 cushion.

This post was sponsored by Shopee.

About Shopee:
Shopee is the leading e-commerce platform in Southeast Asia and Taiwan. It is a platform tailored for the region, providing customers with an easy, secure and fast online shopping experience through strong payment and logistical support. Shopee aims to continually enhance its platform and become the region’s e-commerce destination of choice.

Shopee has a wide selection of product categories ranging from consumer electronics to home & living, health & beauty, baby & toys, fashion and fitness equipment.

Shopee, a Sea company, was first launched in Singapore in 2015, and has since expanded its reach to Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Sea is a leader in digital entertainment, e-commerce and digital financial services across Greater Southeast Asia. Sea’s mission is to better the lives of consumers and small businesses with technology, and is listed on the NYSE under the symbol SE.

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