Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Shopping in Muslim Countries

Will Wilkinson's holiday shopping experience was quite a bit like mine:
I hate [haggling]. I am terrible at it. As a consequence, I bought nothing in Turkey other than tickets to various things, room, food, and a poster of Ataturk. And I overpaid for all of these things, I’m sure, which has left me a bit bitter about the place. Surely this is inefficient overall, no? I understand the price discrimination argument for haggling, especially in a country with a lot of poverty and tourism. But probably hundreds of my dollars stayed in my pocket because I didn’t have good information about the quality of products and I knew the retailer is better at bargaining over the surplus than I am, so… there was no transaction and no surplus.
In Egypt, I bought a dress, a shirt, a couple of papyrus paintings, some perfume, and a necklace. I would have spent about ten times that amount I did had it not been for the incredible hassle posed by purchasing anything. If you walked through a market area (required to exit all historical sites: very clever), you were immediately swarmed by touts. If you glanced at any of a shop's wares, it was worse. Everything is "in the back" or "upstairs." You are pawed at, your hands are shaken, and you're blatantly lied to. All that is aside from the actual haggling process, which almost inevitably starts at a figure at least 200% more than you would pay for a similar object in the States. I figured by the end that I had paid about the same for my purchases as I would have for equivalent items in America (which is of course overpayment in Egypt), but consoled myself with the idea that at least I had only bought from the least aggressive vendors. Hopefully rewarding the more Westernized way of doing business will place a little pressure on the market.
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