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Tsim Sa Tsui at night. Photo by Leong Chan Teik

THIS ARTICLE isn’t about stocks but it’s still about money – and how I recently discovered an unusual and unsavoury sales tactic of a shop in Hong Kong.

I had a small interest in buying a new camera – a Nikon D60, which retails for S$988 in Courts Singapore.

I thought that since I was in Hong Kong, I’d check out the prices – without having any particularly strong desire to make a purchase. Passing by a shop near the Star Ferry terminal, I asked for the price and was told it’s HK$3,500.

That’s just about S$700, and my interest was considerably perked up. Not wanting to disrupt my family’s plans, I deferred checking out other stores until we were walking back to our hotel in the Tsim Sha Tsui area.

I darted into and out of a few shops and each time the price got lower: HK$3,200, HK$2,800, and then HK$2,400. How did prices become progressively lower?

It had to do with my strategy of telling each of the shops about the lowest price I had been quoted. They simply had to give me a better deal, or lose a customer. But two shops didn’t – they stuck to their HK$3,500-HK$4,000 quotation.

As it would soon be dinner time, at around 6.30 pm, I settled on the next best deal from a shop near Prat Avenue and Chatham Road South.

A salesman there quoted HK$2,350 – about half the price in Singapore - and was I eager to lay my hands on the D60!

As we settled around a counter, the salesman started writing out an invoice and asked: “Can you pay now?” 

I counted the money and handed it to him, expecting that in the next instant he would fish out the Nikon nicely packaged in a box.

He didn’t. I felt uneasy as he handed the cash and invoice to one of his colleagues, and then turn to tell me: “He has to go to our other shop to get the camera. We don’t keep stock for this model.”

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The Nikon D60
 

Well, that’s reasonable enough, and he asked me why I had chosen the Nikon D60. “Actually, it’s not a good camera,” he began. 

I was treated to some technical explanation about the disadvantages of the D60’s lens motor, and its CMOS image sensors. Then came the ‘I told you so’ proof: he took out a D60 that was on display, fiddled with it and asked me to shoot a few shots.

To my initial disbelief, the images had a bluish tinge – unlike the clear and sharp images of a Sony camera that I was asked to also try out.

But I have been a photographer hobbyist for too many years not to have confidence in the Nikon – and I was sure that I was being persuaded to give up the Nikon (for which the shop was probably making slim profits, if any) for the pricey Sony (HK$6,500).

Not wanting to be dragged further into why the D60 is a lousy camera, I changed the topic. ”So when will your man return with my camera?” I asked.

The salesman called out to one of his colleagues, who then picked up the phone and appeared to have a brief conversation.

The persuasion game resumed with the salesman asking me: “Why don’t you take the Sony? It’s now on promotion, and you get a telephoto lens on top of the standard lens.”

I politely replied: “Maybe next time. Now, it’s too expensive. I just want the D60. It’s more than enough for my needs.”

Salesman: “So price is your only consideration?”

I had to get him back to what I really wanted to know: “Hey, when is your man coming back? Why don’t you give me a time?”

Salesman: “He has to go to the warehouse, and take out the stock. You can’t wait?”

Me: “I can wait. Just tell me when he will be back.”

Salesman: “If you can’t wait, I will give you back your money.”

Me: “I can wait. Just tell me when he will be back.”

Salesman: “You take back your money and you come back later for your camera.”
 
Me: “What time?”

Salesman: “10.30 pm.”

At that instant, I knew the HK$2,350 tag was nothing but a sales ploy. I took back the money, counted it twice, and walked off in a huff.

No way was I going to go back at 10.30 pm. My parting shot: “If you can’t sell at this price, why didn’t you say so?”

I got my money back but what if I had felt trapped and, at the same time, swayed by his talking down the D60 and bought the Sony instead? Certainly, I would have no bargaining power on his Sony, and would probably end up paying far more than even in Singapore!

What if I had paid for the Nikon through my credit card? Oh, the likely hassle to get my money back...


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