Discount Shopping at Central Department Stores, Siam Paragon, Emporium and The Mall
There are some other supermarket chains and hypermarkets in Thailand. However, the main two competitors, operating both supermarkets and department stores (often in same buildings) are The Central Retail Co. and The Mall Group.
Central operates Central Department Stores and Robinson Department Stores. There are various subsidiaries such as Power Buy (electrical goods), B2S (stationary and books), SuperSports. CentralWorld (with Zen) is also an important part of their business. Tops Supermarket is a supermarket chain, associated with Central, and invariably located (usually on the basement floor) at Central and Robinson Department Stores.
The Mall Group operates the The Mall Department Stores, and the upmarket Emporium Shopping Complex and Siam Paragon.
Central and its affiliated supermarkets, have been issuing and working with member cards for its customers for quite a few years now. The Mall Group just recently (at least in a very public way) started their own discount card program.
Clearly they are competitors, and when one of them starts a discount program, the other eventually has to follow suit. Also, mid 2009, sales are probably still down, and programs to boast sales at department stores and duely needed.
To be honest, I have been applying for Central cards quite a few times over the years. Eventually they turned out to be disappointments. Sometimes, the card had expired just when I wanted to use it for the first time, many goods were exempted, and the card could only be used at Central Department Store proper, with limited or no use at various subsidiaries such as PowerBuy or SuperSports.
Tops Market Place is located in most Central Department and Robinson Department Stores. Here the entrance to Tops Market Place in the basement at Robinson Sukhumvit, soi 19, Sukhumvit Road.
However, the Central Group has improved its ways, with the issue of their 'The 1 Card', The card, easily obtained through one of their customer counters, states : Please present this card to the cashier prior to making payment for 5% discount and point rewards at Central Department Store, ZEN, Robinson Department Store, Power Buy, SuperSports, B2S, and HomeWorks (do-it-yourself store) under terms and conditions provided. Point rewards eventually can be redeemed (we have no experience yet). Certainly, you will not be able to buy all goods at all times with a 5% discount. The usual rule is : if an item is already discounted, you get no additional discount. We had a recent sobering experience when we wanted to buy a new washing machine, and asked about the 5% discount, the sales person started mumbling something about 'how many points I had accumulated'. In any case, it is a great advantage that now there is one 'unified' card, that can be used at various subsidiaries of Central.
There is more than one 'The 1 Card' but foreigners can apply for the Expatriate $ International Visitors variant. Be aware, that you have to fill out a form, asking your address, passport number, monthly income, telephone number etc.
Another card is issued for its affiliated supermarkets (Tops supermarkets, Central Food Hall at CentralWorld and Central Chitlom). We are truly satisfied with our Spot Rewards card.
Some groceries are discounted for members. Furthermore, reward points are accumulated, and discount coupons, presumably based on your amount of spending, are sent regularly to your home address. In practice, this way you can get discounts of between 6-8 % on your groceries. For example, if you buy goods worth 1000 baht, you can use a discount coupon for a 70 baht discount. In our opinion, Tops Supermarket and the Central Food Hall are very generous with their coupons, and we make good use of them.
Another way of looking at it is, of course, that goods are overpriced anyway (possibly prices have been 'adapted', and then discounts are offered).
Gourmet Market (at Siam Paragon) offers locally produced and imported groceries.
Now, the Mall Group has also entered the fray. To be honest, we do not even know the locations of any The Mall Department Stores, they must be all in the suburbs. But we are regular customers at Siam Paragon and sometimes the Emporium Shopping Complex, its two flagship stores.
The so-called (Expatriate, there are different cards) M Card can easily be obtained, if you are willing to part with your personal details. The card states the following : This card entitles you to special discounts as specified by the company, and can be used to accumulate points. It can be used at participating departments in all branches of The Mall, The Emporium and Siam Paragon. The card member needs to present this card when making purchases to receive a 5% discount on regular-price items in the department store, Home Fresh Mart and Gourmet Market (under specified terms and conditions).
As always there are exemptions to the rules. When we eventually purchased the above mentioned washing machine, it was at Siam Paragon. The machine we bough was already heavily discounted. Nevertheless (without asking) we got an additional discount of 5% with our at that time temporary M Card.
So the card has a unified concept, and can also be used at the supermarkets and Gourmet Markets at Siam Paragon and Emporium. In practice, not all groceries are discounted, and when we used it the first time, we got an overall discount on our grocery bill of between 2 and 3 %. Furthermore, you need to spend more than 800 baht.
When registering for the M Card, we also received an introductory booklet with various promotions and discounts, mostly for apparel fashion products. For example, there is a 30 % discount coupon for Ecco shoes (we would personally recommend those), a 30 % discount coupon for Adidas, Reebok, or New Balance products, a 20 % discount coupon for a purchase at Power Mall (electrical appliances). These coupons expire in one or a few months, if not used.
In summary , the Central Group and The Mall Group and competing for customers. A card tends to bind customers to a particular store, especially when they intend to accumulate the reward points, in view of later special discounts or promotions.
Update after a few months of experience :
Not clear what the benefits are for either the 'M Card' or 'The 1 Card'. We did some shopping in department stores of the two chains, and have been gathering points. What next? Very little information is given. We intend to check it out one day by going to the customer services booths.
As for discount at grocery stores, Tops Supermarket and Central Food Hall, beat Gourmet Market hands downs. We regularly receive coupons for Tops, that give 5-8 % discounts on groceries (600 baht minimum purchase). Gourmet Market only gives a discount directly when paying (without coupons) that is rather in the 2-3 % range (and products are more expensive to start with).