Mommy Talks

Shopping for bargains

(Today’s column)

It was a strange sight. We passed by Dampa sa Libis on Sunday evening and the parking lot was not even half full. The only times I’ve seen that parking lot in such a condition was on weekdays during the dead hours between lunch and dinner. I wondered if it was because most people were in the malls doing their Christmas shopping or whether it was a sign that people were indeed spending less despite the usual practice of splurging at this time of the year.

Then, I remembered stories from friends and family members on the throngs of people in Divisoria and Dapitan and I knew that the usual holiday shopping sprees were going on as usual. Filipinos may be buying less expensive items but few are cutting down their Christmas lists.

The Wal-Mart incident dubbed as Black Friday by the United States media, where a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death by rampaging Christmas shoppers eager to enter the store at 5 a.m., has shocked many. It has been described as a situation where consumers have turned shopping into a “contact sport” where the weak getting hurt is just part of the game. In places like Divisoria, flea markets and the malls during weekend and midnight sales, this contact sport doesn’t only take place during the holiday season. Filipinos engage in the jostling all-year round while young children get squished and pickpockets engage in their own sport among the shoppers.

Not too long ago, I would have attributed the urge to spend for Christmas gift giving exclusively to the Christian value of sharing. As twisted as it might sound, the story about the Three Wise Men who came bearing gifts to the child Jesus finds commemoration with the massive gift giving that has become the benchmark of the Filipinos’ Christmas traditions. But now I realize it is more than that.

For decades, Filipinos have been programmed to spend money and the holiday shopping is already an automated reaction to that programming. It is all part of the pervasive capitalist culture where spending money is no longer associated with the acquisition of things that people need but the acquisition of things that people think they need and cannot do without—a mentality carefully shaped and honed by the powerful media and savvy advertising.

It’s a mind game. Storeowners have marketing professionals in their payroll, or didn’t you know that? And these marketing professionals, trained in the art of consumer psychology, know that majority of shoppers go to malls not really to buy anything specific but merely to browse through items, find ones they think are good bargains and buy them whether or not they have a need for them.

This is especially true with non-essential and luxury items. Maria goes to the mall as is her weekend habit, sees a pair of shoes with a tag that says 50-percent off. Even though it’s a pair of shoes she has seen before, she never really considered buying it because it was expensive and she had no real need for it. But at 50-percent off, she starts telling herself it is a good buy and she even manages to convince herself that she has a real and good use for it.

The real trick to buying quality items at rock bottom prices is to buy as close from the source as possible.

The thing is, despite the slashed down prices, it is very rare that shoppers get value for money during sales. Stores conduct sales not to play good Samaritan but, rather, to get rid of items that are clogging up their storerooms and warehouses goods that, sold at regular prices, won’t even merit a second glance from shoppers.

And there’s even another angle to pricing. When a new item is initially put on display, a storeowner assigns a price that is much, much higher than the item’s real value. After a couple of weeks, the store conducts a sale and puts the same item at 20 to 50-percent off, the slashed down price still above the real value of the item. The store still manages to sell the item at a profit.

It’s like a thriller. The storeowner is prepared for the slow sales during the initial phase (introduction) but knows that he’ll make a killing during the well-timed sale (climax) previously built up with the just the right amount of teasers and announcements (rising action).

The real trick to buying quality items at rock bottom prices is to buy as close from the source as possible. Most store items are expensive because between the source and the retail store, it has passed through many places, each one adding a percentage to the price—dealers and wholesalers, exporters and importers, and finally the retailers. You add the cost of tariff and customs duties (if imported) and grease money, where applicable, and the price of rent if the retailer is renting space in a mall, and you know you’re kidding yourself that you’re buying imported items at cheap prices.

Visit weekend markets where most of the sellers produce their goods from backyard businesses. Multiply (multiply.com) and Etsy (etsy.com) are bursting with products made and sold directly by their makers—from free range chickens to cakes and pastries to lamps made from indigenous materials to just about anything. Forget brand names. Forget status symbols. If you can’t get rid of the shopper’s mentality, at least be a smart buyer and get your money’s worth.

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