Shopping in HCM City

I am not sure whether I wrote earlier about the pleasure and perils of shopping at Ho Chi Minh City, the commercial capital of Vietnam.

Vietnam is a great country, and I have written about my experiences in that country when I went there as a tourist. Everyone of us should visit this country, primarily to see how this nation of “small” people fought against the mighty forces of the United States for a long period of time, and eventually won the war. The only country in the world to have done so !

Now, let us visit the shopping experience in HCM (Ho Chi Minh) City.

I like to shop at the Ban Thinh Market at the centre of HCM City. It is huge factory shed kind of place (really huge), with hundreds of shops all over, all closely packed. Only one person can comfortably move across the aisle between two rows of shops. You can virtually get any consumer item – mainly branded clothing, leather items, upholstery, food items, handicrafts, and many other stuff. There is a steady stream of mostly foreigners who come to shop at this market. Surrounding this market is a number of hawker food stalls, and restaurants, and other shops.

I am writing this piece of blog post just to share with the readers on the selling tactics used by the shops within the Ban Thinh market, because I keep getting fascinated by their aggression, passion, and desire to push the goods.

I usually buy the branded (yet cheap – surely cheaper than India or Malaysia or Indonesia or even China) T-Shirts, track pants, jerseys of football teams, etc., The cost of a typical T-Shirt (which looks almost like the original) is around USD 6, sometimes it is USD 8 to 10 depending on the design and quality. Similar items in Singapore would cost at least 5 to 8 times more. Even in India, the cost would be at least twice or more.

Coming to the selling tactics, the sales girls who push these goods gauge the customer closely – they try to figure out if we would buy anything at all, are we just window shopping, are we able to purchase more than one item, are we engaged in a collective purchase, and follow our eyes to the specific items on which our eyes show a glimmer of interest ! Then they pounce on us like tigress, and try to hold us from moving to the next shop which is only 3 feet away. They offer a chair, there is another girl who is behind you and offers more choices from another shop nearby who is obviously connected to this particular shop, as messages keep passing back and forth seeking to fulfill our choices – like specific sizes, colours, different brands, et al. They rarely mention the price unless you ask for the price at the beginning, which is another tactic for generating interest and then hold the higher marked price as your resistance goes down after you have selected what you want.

In a recent encounter, I selected 8 items and was willing to offer only around USD 48 for all of them. I always get confused with the Vietnamese Dong currency, and then worked out that it is simple to remember that VND 100K = USD 5. The other funny thing in Vietnam is that almost in all market places (not the malls), they are willing to accept USD or EUROs, not necessary to carry VND currency !

The sales girl (who also appeared to be the owner) offered a final price of USD 56, take it or leave it. I offered a final figure of USD 50. She said no, the difference of USD 6 is too important for her, etc., etc., She said the value of 1 USD in Vietnam is very high. Finally I settled for USD 53 because I felt that her original pricing was about right for the quality of the items she offered. She appeared a little upset with the hard negotiation, but finally gave in because I pointed out that my friends have also bought giving her total business of over USD 120 at one go.

The key characteristic of the sales efforts orchestrated by almost all similar shops is their passion to offer something of value and negotiate to the hilt. While most sales people do this in one way or the other, most of the time it is difficult to decipher the passion code – I mean, the sales talk would appear to be flat and prepared in advance usually. In the case of Ban Thinh market, you can rest assured that the sales efforts will be driven with passion and the intense focus to close the deal !

Anyway, enjoy the shopping and contribute to the Vietnamese economy !!


Vijay Srinivasan

15th March 2015


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