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A Guide to Shopping in Vietnam

A foreign visitor has shared his experience when shopping in Vietnam in an article posted on the Vietnam News recently. According to this customer, one of the important tips for shopping in Vietnam is to know how to bargain.

This article was also posted in the forum Asian Tour of Malaysia The Star Online site.

For the newcomer and western retail-agrophobes, here are some tips for shopping in Vietnam:

Use basic Vietnamese

Knowing one, or even a couple of basic phrases may disguise your image as a hapless and unwitting cash cow waiting to be slaughtered. For example, even a simple "bao nhieu tien" (how much is this?), or a few light hearted "oi gioi oi" can help you walk away in fabulous counterfeit Vans for as low as US$9.

He concedes that this won't always work and for those willing to go nuclear you can always try the patented ‘walk away' technique. But try to keep it light and friendly. A smile always helps.

Be prepared to bargain

You don't have to be in Vietnam very long to realize that street vendors lining the streets of the Old Quarter will charge according to their perception of your ability to pay means-tested prices that he called the ‘foreign premium'.

According to his Vietnamese friends, foreigners can be charged upwards of three to four times normal rates.

A business negotiations lecturer once told me that his BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) is the buffer between his personal valuation of something and the price at which he would walk away (or a cheaper price he knows he can attain elsewhere).

Research roughly how much you should be paying for things you want (your walk away price). Consulting your Vietnamese friends or your tour guide is an ideal way of doing this. Often, if not always, you'll be more confident being able to bargain things down if you know how much its worth.

Learn by example

Whilst he'll admit his retail prowess is yet to fully take flight here, he has had the benefit of good coaching from his Vietnamese friends.
In his first month, a language lesson he organized near Hang Dau Street quickly became an excuse to go shopping and get his tutor to help him bargain for shoes.

Shopping with your Vietnamese friends can be profoundly helpful demonstration of how to bargain, in addition to being a rather amusing social occasion when you're forced to try it for yourself.

Obviously, you should only use these tips when you're shopping around street vendors – i.e. places without printed price tags.
Otherwise, don't look surprised when the assistant at the VinCom perfume counter looks unamused when you try to bargain for a bottle of Aqua di Gio.

Value vs cost

Ultimately, it's inevitable that you'll pay a higher price for something and it can suck to feel like you've been ripped off.

To this, he said that value was in the eye of the beholder (more so for rich travelers than expats being paid in dong). Sure, you paid more than you should have, but how much did you want it? How much less did you pay than you would back home?

Value is in the eye of the beholder and at the very least, knowing how much you value something might soothe the humiliating feeling that you've been swindled, after you've proudly flaunted your counterfeit Ray Ban Clubmasters purchased for 100,000 dong (US$4.73), only to be told you could have had them for 20,000 dong ($0.95).