Namdaemun Market (South Korea) – NO DEAL!

On a recent trip to South Korea’s Namdaemun market I was reminded of how small and yet diverse the world is.

Keep in mind, Koreans in general are known to be shrewd negotiators, and street vendors regardless of culture tend to be among the toughest (a supporting example will be published soon). On the other hand, many seller’s around the world mistakenly think that discounts are a buyer’s primary reason for making the purchase.  Case in point.

I was looking for a purse for my daughter and South Korea has some of the best shopping on the planet (quality, variety/selection, prices, etc.). My daughter didn’t specify a brand, only “pink” and “leather,” so off I went!

The double decker bus let me off around the block from the Namdaemun market (I highly recommend double decker bus tours for transportation regardless of the city you’re visiting for value – local historical information, locations, convenience) and I made my way to the street merchants. The first purse vendor I came across made eye contact with me and knowingly shouted “designer purses, what color?”

Me: “pink”

Vendor: picked a pink one off the top shelf with a long metal pole and showed it to me, the leather and stitching of the purse felt like it was excellent quality and a nice designer logo. “45,000” (~ US$ 45)

Me: having just arrived, I wanted to shop a little, so I raised my hand and waved a polite “no”

Vendor: “40,000”

Me: that was easy… and I raised my hand and again waved “no”

Vendor: “35,000”

Me: starting to think something is wrong here, he keeps discounting without even asking me to make a counter offer??? I raised my hand and wave, “no”

Vendor: “30,000”

Me: get me out of here…and I left without a purse.

What was really going on? Was this vendor really trying to drive me away and/or the market prices down??? I’m confident that’s not the case. I’m sure he was thinking if he discounted enough I’d eventually buy, but that didn’t turn out to be the case either.

I couldn’t help but feel that his extreme/desperate discounting was telling me there was something wrong with the product and/or situation. I certainly didn’t want the purse to fall apart or become discolored later – and there’s no way I wanted to end up in a South Korean police station for having something to do with an illegal transaction for counterfeit goods.

So if you’re a seller who uses discounting as a desperate tactic to close deals, please consider this, what is your discounting really saying to the other side?

Posted by Mike Inman

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