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Some peaceful societies wrestle with whether or not to adopt the latest technologies, but not the Rural Thai—they see only advantages in using their 4G mobile devices. The Ifaluk prohibit many things, such as motorboats, that might corrupt their traditional culture. The Amish are famed for evaluating all new technological devices because they want to keep their distance from mainstream social values. They suspect that electricity in their homes or cars in their yards might disrupt their lives. Many of the other peaceful societies also struggle to preserve their traditional ways.

Thailand, according to an article published last week, was slow in adopting Internet access widely, but since 2007, and especially in more recent years with the advent of 4G (fourth generation) Internet access, the Thai people have rushed to buy and use mobile devices. At this point, 69 percent of the Thai own at least one smartphone. Budget packages in the highly competitive telco market have led to the remarkable statistic that 122 percent of the Thai now have mobile connections to the Internet.

Respect displayed for King Bhumibol in a Thai shantytown

Respect displayed for King Bhumibol in a Thai shantytown (Photo by Gerry Popplestone on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The author of the article, Jenny Chan, points out that along with the widespread national respect for their revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, mobile has become the other important unifying force in the nation. More impressively, Thailand now leads the world in per capita mobile Internet usage, with about four hours per day per person. One tech company executive commented, “Thailand is a mobile-led society.”

The writer cites some figures showing the rapid growth of 4G use in Thailand. Line, an instant messaging service, is used by 74 percent of all Thai people, compared with a figure of 55 percent worldwide. Line has 33 million users in Thailand—half the population. Bangkok is the leading city in the world for usage of Facebook, and about 65 percent of the Thai people use it to help them with their shopping needs.

The author points out, however, that the Thai mobile users don’t just shop. They focus on watching tense dramas, humorous comedies, and programs that share gossip. Chan continues that the social media are favorites of the Thai, and increasingly the Rural Thai, but while they are openly consumers of the digital fare and the shopping services, they remain conservative and quite analog in their interpersonal relationships. The Chief Executive Officer of McCann Thailand, Yupin Muntzing, told the author, “Whatever we are expressing on Facebook, when it comes to reality we may not do so, as rooted in the Thai culture of being accommodating.”

A banner along a Bangkok street in June 2014 telling the Thai that using the “share” or “like” functions in the social media was prohibited and subject to a prison sentence

A banner along a Bangkok street in June 2014 telling the Thai that using the “share” or “like” functions in the social media was prohibited and subject to a prison sentence (Photo by Pratyeka in the Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

Another Thai executive, Rattakom Potharam, from the company MRM Thailand, argued that e-commerce in the nation is becoming an unstoppable, borderless force, particularly among younger people. He opined that Thai consumers are born to be social. They are especially eager for chemistry, rapport, and relationships, and the social media are fulfilling that need. Facebook, Line, and Instagram have become marketplaces for conversations and social interactions. However, the author of the report doesn’t mention the temporary prohibition on the use of Facebook imposed by the nation’s military rulers after the coup in 2014.

Shopping in Thailand is rapidly moving onto the Internet. Searching smaller businesses, such as the companies that sell the famed “Child Angel” or “Luk Thep” dolls, has become common. Restaurants, airlines, and other industries have already adapted themselves to the latest Thai fad—owning and pampering the lifelike dolls, which some adults treat just like children. According to one article about the craze, some adults even take their dolls on flights, pay for seats, insist that their “children” be buckled in, and hassle the flight attendants about proper refreshments for them.

Shopping for clothing for the dolls, and for other goods of course, on the social media, and then quickly purchasing recommended items, has becoming routine for the Thai. Use of 4G devices in Rural Thailand is expanding, and with it the use of social media and the purchasing patterns already in place in the cities.

One of the advantages of online shopping to Thai marketers is their enhanced ability to analyze what their consumers want. For instance, according to an analysis of market data from WearYouWant.com, an online shopping firm, Thai shoppers may buy different products outside of Bangkok than they do in the metropolis. In Chiang Mai, a favorite purchase, particularly during December, is of white shoes. In Nonthaburi, online shoppers buy makeup and skincare products. In Chonburi, 79 percent of all orders placed are for black outfits.

King Bhumibol may be ailing and the Thai economy is certainly not too healthy but, Ms. Chan concludes, at least the Thai have their mobile devices to keep them going and happy.