Xin Chào from Huế,
If supermarket chains have a 75% stranglehold on the Australian grocery market, here in Việtnam it’s the complete opposite. Most people here purchase just what they need for that particular evening’s meal . (In business textbooks this is sometimes referred to as ‘Parisian Shopping’, but that nomenclature is not suitable here.)
On top of that, most locals here have a motor bike. So, large bags of weekly groceries don’t fit. Consequently, markets are popular – and not just for the souvenir-hunting tourist shopper.
Interestingly, profit is apparently not the principal motivation for these purveyors. Van Anh – a Vietnamese colleague – explained it thus: they are looking after each other, providing for each other. What a refreshing approach.
Clustering is therefore very common among retailers. This is where vendors selling more or less the same wares gather together, deriving strength in numbers and drawing customers from far and wide to the clustered destination, but also benefiting from close proximity to each other because of co-operation. Commercial clustering is a very common phenomenon in Asia. I’ve witnessed it now in Hong Kong, Dhaka, Delhi and Hồ Chị Minh City. I’ve even seen it in Melbourne, where all the camera shops are in the same street and all the gaming shops are in the same block.
In Việt Nam – because many of these vendors are relatively poor – it begets a kind of benign desperation among the vendors. It’s this circumstance which makes shopping with Linda very difficult for me. We are completely different shoppers. Whereas Linda is a prevaricator, my preference is to be brief and decisive, on the grounds that time spent shopping is time wasted. For me, the necessary evil of shopping should be truncated if at all possible.
Linda is a serious retail ditherer, constantly seeking approval from some invisible source – oscillating between blue vs green, big vs small, this vs that, usually for excruciating minutes. Of course, that approval is readily forthcoming from the Việtnamese vendors who say things like “Madam look lovely” or “It just right for you”.
“That was stressful!”
Linda invariably emerges from these encounters carrying quite a lot more merchandise than she intended to acquire. She also looks somewhat harried and quite possibly two or three years older than when she went in. Yesterday in Huế she gasped, “That was stressful!” after extricating herself from the scrummage, looking like she’d spent 20 minutes in a spin cycle of a washing machine.
Linda clearly prefers the supermarket shopping. For me, I hope the Việtnamese people never allow themselves to fall victim to the clutches of the conglomerates. They would lose something worth having. Long live the little guys.
hẹn gạp lại from Huế