Sun, beaches and cheap clothes – that’s the idea that comes to mind when we think of such tourist destinations as Thailand and Bali. There is this belief that has generated amongst the travelling community that going to a developing country automatically means that everything is cheap - food, clothes, transport, everything. While this is true for reasons such as economic disparity and cost of living/wages etc. how cheap should we expect things to be? The below article discusses how cheap is too cheap and are we bargaining with more than just price in these so-called ‘cheap’ parts of the world?
“Too expensive”, I overhear a customer in a shop in the busy tourist area of Thamel, Kathmandu. “So sorry Sir, cannot go cheaper, cost price”. The tourist grunts at the shopkeeper. “Well I will find it cheaper elsewhere” and then leaves.
We know how this situation generally ends. Tourist leaves and shopkeeper comes running after them. “Ok Sir, I will give you that price”.
Now there are two possibilities here. 1. The shopkeeper lost at his game of play for the higher price. Or 2. The shopkeeper actually lost money on this product and desperately sold it at below cost price because they need to make ends meet and put food on the table for their family
No matter the situation the traveller was more than likely bargaining for a mere $1.
What is it that causes us to feel the need to bargain every time we are in a foreign place that is considered cheap, even though all the products are more than affordable for us? We bargain an $8 scarf down to $4, even though we know true well that particular scarf would cost $25 in our part of the world.
Has bargaining become a trend? A game? Is it cool to bargain? Do we feel as if we have ‘won’ something if we don’t pay the full price?
Let’s look at the bargaining game from different points of view:
The Shopkeeper –
"I have many people come into my shop asking for the price to be cheaper. When I say it’s fixed price some even ask a second time. I don’t know why they don’t understand that we can’t discount our prices.
Our prices are there because that is what they cost to be there. A product is not made on its own – firstly the person who made that product must get paid their fair price (which sadly is not the case for 90% of shops here in Thamel). Child labour is still rife here in Nepal and many people earn below minimum wage. We don’t believe this is fair and run our business on the policy that every worker gets paid a fair price.
Then on top of the wages there is transport to get the garments from the factory to the shop. Then there is the cost of rent for the shop, and then the wages to pay for the staff that work here. On top of that we should at least be entitled to make a profit for our business.
So we base our prices on all these factors. When a person comes in and asks for a bag for $4 how do they think we can pay for all those expenses? Especially at the very least give a fair wage to the woman who made the bag." - Shopkeeper, Nepal
The Traveller -
"Some people will argue over so little, personally for me if I think I'm getting ripped off then I'll barter with them. If I think the price is reasonable then I just pay it as it goes a lot further in the seller’s pocket than mine. I have seen people barter over 10 cents, which to me is crazy" – David, 33
"People should realise they are bartering over so little and it means far less to them than the sellers. $1 to us might be nothing but $1 to them could be so much" – Amanda, 24
"Sometimes I feel as though we do get ripped off by the sellers. They see us and they see money and think we will pay more than what the product is worth. I think they put their prices up in the hope to get more. But in saying that, I don’t think we should be haggling over a few dollars. I would pay what I think something is worth" – Paul, 23
"In Thailand they have started putting prices on their products. I think this is the better option so people know what price they should pay. I hate haggling anyway so this is a good thing for me. Still to me the prices in Thailand are so cheap, I wonder if the people making them are getting a fair price?" - Sarah, 30
The Producer –
"Before working for a fair trade organisation I used to work in a big factory producing clothes. We would work in harsh conditions, not a lot of light, no safety standards. Some days I worked for 14 hours a day with little breaks and a wage that barely fed my family. I felt like we were slaves there" – Garment worker
"When I was 12 years old I was a labourer making clothing and accessories for large export companies. I would work 10-14 hours for no more than five dollars a day. I didn’t know back then that $5 was below minimum wage. I was just a child." – Former child worker
"I feel so lucky to be working for a fair trade organisation that cares about my wellbeing and my health. I make enough money to feed my family and I love where I work. I feel lucky every day to have found this job." – Fair trade employee
So we’re dealing with two issues here. 1. The fact that when we are bargaining we may be bargaining with people’s livelihoods and 2. The fact that we are forgetting to look beyond our material values and think “I wonder where this came from?” “I wonder who made these clothes?”
I believe as travellers we have a responsibility to consider these 2 issues when shopping. Yes you might be excited by the idea that you can get clothes for cheap but who is really paying for your cheap clothes, is it you or someone else?
Next time you try to bargain down the price of a product when on holidays perhaps take a minute and assess the situation. Ask yourself whether the money you are about to spend is exploiting someone in any way. Ask yourself if you’re being too harsh on the price and if you might be bargaining for more than money. Better yet, ask yourself whether the purchase of this product is really making a positive difference to your life or the life of someone else? If not, perhaps it’s worth investing your money into something that is.