Posts Tagged ‘shopping’

In my line of work one of the most frequently asked questions from friends and acquaintances is “How much discount do you get?”  They may not remember my name, they sure don’t have the faintest idea (or intention to learn) of what I do in the company, but they will always remember to raise this question – sometimes – more than once.

I actually don’t mind since I would do exactly the same if I’m in the others’ shoes.  Everyone loves bargains, and if these bargains apply to the brands we carry, you can expect to see mini-riots around our neighborhood.  Depending on the rules of the specific brands, getting the entry tickets is a skillful art itself.  What they have to understand, however, is that staff sales are not to be taken for granted, even for us.

Being a pseudo-ambassador for the brands I’d always keep an eye on items that suit my close friends.  For others, they will just have to trust my taste, particularly on sales that ban all guests, and yes, even my own cellphone.

So you get the drill.  For these so-called maximum security sales, you feed me with your likes, dislikes and budget, and you have to depend on my judgement.  If you don’t trust me, I will not be bothered.  I have no idea what merchandise is available, and if you decide to be a pain in the ass, you will be better off without me.


And here you go.  Top facts about staff sales.  (These facts will self-destruct in 10 seconds)

  1. Only staff employed by the brands directly have ongoing purchase discounts.  Group staff are invited to off-season sales only with leftover stock.  Discounts of the former is lower.  For the latter, it can range from 80 to 90% off.  Sample sales are often only in model sizes and may be worn / used / photographed so the bargains are always bigger.  Be selective in queuing for sample sales.  The good stuff is always grabbed by the brand staff in advance unless you believe you have a model figure which outshines everyone.
  2. Hierarchy always exists.  The order always goes like this: Brand Senior Management – Brand Management – Brand Everyone Else – Business Unit Everyone – Group Senior Management – Group Management – Group Everyone Else.
  3. What about guests you ask?  Well it depends on who you know in the hierarchy in the above, and it very much depends on the policies of specific brands.
  4. You have no idea what’s on offer in off-season sales, until you set foot in one.  Asking “what’s available” is just dumb.
  5. No pain no gain.  The queues are endlessly long, and the sales are always in office hours.  I have seen one time 4 more queues once you thought you have passed through registration.  It is far from a luxury shopping experience.  If you can’t at least take a day off, don’t ask your friends to bring you in as guest.
  6. Simple because number of guests invited per staff is limited.
  7. Certain maximum-security sales are for staff only.  No cellphones, no messages, no pictures, nothing.  Limited time, locked environment.  And yes, there is a limit of how many items we can buy as well.
  8. No returns, no gift wrapping, no warranty, no repairs, no alteration, nothing (even for watches & jewelry).  Some items are marked and some packaging is removed to avoid reselling.  Buy at your own risk.
  9. Some sales will slash prices further on their second or third day.  Prices, sizes or availability, your decision.  Stop whining, you cannot win all.
  10. It’s a benefit, not a right.  Be grateful.  No complaints.  Remember, brands can always shred their items.  Cash versus prestige, they will always pick the latter.

Happy shopping!

Read Full Post »

With the $6,000 Hong Kong government is giving to its people in the latest revision of the financial budget, aside from the inevitably disgruntled debates over eligibility and disbursement, the talk of the town these few days is focused on how we will dispose of this US$770 equivalent new-found cash.

Kid not, every other commercial establishment in town is hungrily eyeing this disposable income in the otherwise slower commercial season of March and April.  I am prepared, and it won’t make any difference even if I’m not, to be bombarded by hundreds of marketing programs and sales calls in the mailboxes, on the streets, in the malls, and on the internet.

I am interested to find out how Hong Kong people are planning to utilize this $6,000, in a city where consumption is the population’s number one pastime.  I posted a poll on my Facebook page, and I surveyed a few discussion forums in town on the internet to give you a summary of what our neighbors have come up with.  Of course, for those who are very much in need of this sum to manage their daily food and shelter expenses, they wouldn’t have the time and energy to take part in these surveys, and so their plans of consumption are always implied even if not stated below.

  • the brand new iPad 2 or the upcoming iPhone 5 (what are the chances of such convenient coincidence, with Apple launching iPad 2 the day after our handout announcement?  I have to take my hat off to Steve Jobs, once again, even if it was none of his intention whatsoever)
  • save it (no it’s not lame, since we practically spend so much on a daily basis without any need of excuses, anyway)
  • a vacation to Thailand, or Europe with savings (Hong Kong’s favorite pastime: getting the hell out of the city even for just a few days)
  • pay back credit card debts
  • take a break off my part-time job
  • grab my sister’s share of her $6,000 as well (siblings’ greed should never be underestimated)
  • pick up an English language course to stay competitive (admirable, if only it’s that easy)
  • put it all in the stock market
  • pay for a call girl
  • collect everyone’s share and buy back the Western Cross Harbour Tunnel (now that’s what I call innovative thinking!)
  • pay for condolence flowers for the government house
  • buy $6,000 worth of bananas and throw them at the two Mr. Tsangs and call it the “Long Hair Effect” (Donald Tsang as our Chief Executive and John Tsang our Financial Secretary)
  • a trip to Macau’s casinos
  • wait in line for Justin Bieber’s concert in May

Since the value of the dollar is different for everyone, I do not dare to draw any conclusions.  One thing I know, is that when I turned on the news yesterday and watched the unmistakably joyous face on the old lady who collects cardboard boxes for a living at $8 a day,  a portion of my share should go to the charity to help those who need much, much more than $6,000.

Read Full Post »

I couldn’t put the book down and finished reading it within a day.  It’s the New York Times bestseller Buyology: How Everything We Believe About Why We Buy Is Wrong, by Martin Lindstrom.   Lindstrom is one of the world’s most respected marketing gurus, and he has been traveling around the world advising the biggest Fortune 500 companies, at least 300 days of a year.  Most of us believe that we are smart shoppers, and that we are careful with how we make our buying choices through conscious thinking.  In fact, we are far from there.  And as Lindstrom points out, we are actually getting worse and worse.

The better we think we are, the more we let our guards down, and the more vulnerable we are for everything happening around us.  One example, a supermarket with a whole stack of canned soups priced at $1.95 receives no customers.  The next day, the store puts up a giant sign saying “Maximum 6 cans per customer”, and the soups are flying off the shelf at the same $1.95 price tag.  Mind games working, huh?

On the book’s back cover, Lindstrom lists out a few intriguing questions:

  • Why did so many people who took the “Pepsi challenge” say they preferred Pepsi, only to carry on buying Coca-Cola?
  • Why do the majority of anti-smoking campaigns inadvertently encourage people to smoke?
  • Why does the scent of melons help sell electronic products?

Lindstrom addresses all these questions with his main theme of neuromarketing.  We used to rely on old school questionnaires and focus groups to study what customers want.  The fact that more and more of these traditional studies failed miserably has led to the widespread effectiveness and popularity of neuromarketing.  It is very well a science for subjects’ brains to be scanned when shown various advertisements and marketing programs.  The results are startling, and in many cases, contradicts completely with what we would admit, on paper.

I find the topic of product placement and the American Idol example fascinating.  With Idol’s 3 main sponsors, Coca-Cola, AT&T and Ford, who do you think gets the most of their advertising money’s worth?  Who fails miserably?  Why do some product placements fail?  Do you remember Elliott places pieces of Reese’ Pieces candy to lure E.T. out of his hiding 19 years ago?  Tom Cruise with his Ray-Ban sunglasses in 1983’s Risky Business, Top Gun and the later Will Smith in Men in Black II?

In the next chapter, Lindstrom describes how mirror neurons are responsible for why we often unwittingly imitate other people’s behavior.  Apple and its iPod sensation.  Abercrombie & Fitch with their all gorgeous American popular teens image that is ever so irresistible for 14 year-olds.

Do subliminal messages exist?  Yes, but its power has little to do with the product itself.  Instead, it lies in our own brains.  Tobacco companies spend huge percentage of their marketing budget into subliminal brand exposure.  “…Philip Morris, for example, offers bar owners financial incentives to fill their venues with color schemes, specifically designed furniture, ashtrays, suggestive tiles designed in captivating shapes similar to parts of the Marlboro logo, and other subtle symbols that, when combined, convey the very essence of Marlboro – without even the mention of the brand name or the sight of an actual logo.”  It’s an irony that because of government bans, tobacco companies have been forced to develop a whole new set of marketing skills, a set that is now vastly copied by many other industries.  Don’t let yourself fall prey to them.

Other topics of ritual, superstition, faith, religion, our somatic markers, senses, and sex are expressly covered.  Does sex really sell, or are consumers too distracted from the steamy images that they have forgotten entirely about the product?  Is it the sex that is selling or is it the controversy?  Well the latter is actually the more potent factor, though mirror neurons explain why sex and beauty continues to be popular in advertising everywhere around the world.

I highly recommend Lindstrom’s book and it’s one of the best investments I had made, considering the subliminal messages I was put through from his various appearances on CNBC prior to my purchase.   We will continue to shop for sure, but if we can all at least remember bits and pieces of this mind-provoking book and pause for a while before we take out our credit cards, we can at least delay the unavoidably path of becoming worse and worse shoppers, as Lindstrom predicted.

Read Full Post »

Spending Spree Anyone?

So I was accompanying a friend who was in town for a few days.  We met for lunch and then went for a walk solely meant to kill time and lounge around casually.  This Friday afternoon was packed with customers shopping for the upcoming Chinese New Year, as well as the ever so aggressive mainland Chinese tourists who were fanatically running around name brand stores before closing time.  We couldn’t resist the wave, and so we joined in the crowds to do some window shopping ourselves.

Little did I expect that this was no window shopping at all.  My friend went to Bottega Veneta to check out the limited edition snakeskin duffle bag, and while I was answering a long distance call from my ex-colleague, he had picked out a silver / leather bracelet for himself.  We then headed to Yves Saint Laurent next door though my friend had already gotten the new black clutch bag the week ago.   At Paul Smith upstairs, he got a slim fitted check shirt, a pair of check pants, a colorful knit cardigan, and 10 pairs of Paul Smith signature socks. 

I was already exhausted from the crowds, so we had to sit down for tea at a nearby coffee shop.  After an hour of recharging over dessert and coffee, we moved on to I.T., the local fashion store that brings in a number of foreign designer brands goodies.  We spent literally three hours there where I was joined by one of the store sales associate friend of mine, dressing my friend up and offering our comments and advice.  He was walking back and forth, picking everything up and trying on everything.  No colors were off-limits.  He even went to the women’s section to look for items that matched his fair skin tone and slim waist line.  With enough commotion involving half a dozen other sales associates looking for sizes and colors, he left with 2 large bags of goodies, on top of what he already got earlier in the afternoon.

This is what I like doing on a lazy afternoon.  I got the rush of shopping without having the need to spend a penny myself.  I didn’t feel empty that I was not getting anything for myself, and I was psyched that my friend was happy with his achievement.   I enjoy shopping with people who know what they want, while at the same time open enough for experimentation.

I advocate being passionate in everything we do, whether it’s work, relationships, food, shopping, and friendships.  Being passionate means to devote your entire self in the moment of whatever you are doing in a responsible way, but without creating too much undue stress.  Some people, however, place judgements without knowing it.  “How does he get the money?”  “What does he need to proof?” “I bet he is a slob.”

Some people automatically jump on the dollar figure, but I’d rather place emphasis on the journey.  Getting something that truly fits you is worth celebrating even if it costs only ten dollars.  Getting something pricey solely on basis of the brand name is not my cup of tea.

Like this Friday for instance, if you believe you will enjoy a spending spree like my friend’s, give it a go.  You will have the time of your life looking for something you want.  However, if you know you will regret this apparent short-term therapy (for no apparent reason), stay away from it.  We can all co-exist, and there is always something for everyone.

Read Full Post »

THANN Addict

Ok I just have to write this when I am physically still in heaven.  This afternoon I had my forth massage / spa treatment on my fifth day in Bangkok this week.  Amazingly, the four treatments so far are all focused on different problematic areas, and every single one of them works its wonders.  Some people may think it’s a lame excuse, but I always believe that we need to treat our bodies right, whether it is eating tasty food, or better yet eating the right and nutritious food,  exercising, and relieving all its aches and pains from the daily chores and pressures of life itself.  Without a fit body, even the brightest mind can’t do anything.  Not anyone can be Stephen Hawking, period.

Among a million other reasons, having the luxury and professional resources to pamper my own physical and mental wellbeing is what I love about Thailand.  The Thais truly understand how important it really is to revitalize our bodies using the most basic herbs and the art of natural therapy.   Aside from traditional Thai massages, aroma massages, and healing stone massages, there are tons of personal products containing the best herbs and essential oils you can find on the planet.  Lemongrass, lavender, rosemary, shiso, peppermint, eucalyptus, and the list goes on. 

I have been a fan of the Thann brand for a long time. Every time I am in Thailand I will stock up on supplies.  I know there is now Thann in Hong Kong, but there is just no comparison visiting the holy temple from where this all originates.  Even though I just bought a load in my last trip here in November last year, I still found myself hypnotized to visit its store on my second day in the city.  In the new arrivals section, I found this cutest little electric incense diffuser that I couldn’t say no to.  I haven’t used my incense burner for some time, probably due to the mess of candles and the scary thought of burning my apartment down in the middle of the night.  Now with this unit that diffuses aroma by ultrasonic oscillation without heating or burning the essential oils, it feels safer and also maintains the original effects of the oils at the same time.

Alright, with the new diffuser, comes a replenished supply of large size (50ml) essential oils.  I picked their Flower & Vanilla blend oil (lavender, rosemary, geranium), Enigmar blend oil (rosewood, rosemary, marjoram), Mediterranean Floral oil (lavender and rosemary), Sea Foam oil (peppermint, thyme, rosemary and eucalyptus), and Woody Floral blend oil (orange, cedarwood, ylang ylang, tangerine, bergamot, clove, sandalwood), enough to make my whole apartment floor smell like a spa center.  In addition, I also bought a gift set that contains three small size (10ml) oils of Sea Form, Oriental Essence (lemongrass) and Aromatic Wood with potpourri.  One more Mediterranean Floral Natural Flax Seed eye mask and essential oil that offers heated pressure relief on the eyes, all added up to a huge heavy bag of soothing goodies for me to bring home and indulge in the next few months. 

No that’s not enough.  To thank my apparently generous patronage, the store gave me two huge sets of gift boxes that contains at least a dozen samples of body gel, shampoo, conditioner, lotions and soaps in each.  I don’t think I will ever finish it all, but it will be welcoming gifts for just about everybody.  The storekeeper asked me when I would be leaving Thailand, which was a question I did not expect.  Turned out he gave me two gift vouchers to their renowned Thann Sanctuary which is worth any spa treatment of THB2,200 each.  That is good for a 2-hour spa treatment of just about anything.  I didn’t expect this.  What a pleasant surprise.   For a spa and massage maniac like I am, this is literally like a further 30% off my entire purchase.

It was indeed marketing investment well spent on their part.  After enjoying the 2-hour Thann Sanctuary Signature Massage with my local friend,  I have to admit it is by far the best spa treatments I have ever had, and that includes 5-star hotel spa experiences.   I think aside from the massage techniques, the fact that they couple with their signature oils and products, and that its small establishment provides the coziness that no fancy grand hotel spas can compete with.  While I am wholeheartedly recommending the place to my friends, I hope that it will forever remain to be a small-sized hidden gem that provides individualistic services to its customers.

And I also just found out that they have a Thann  Tea Cafe in both Gaysorn and Paragon, as well as a florist.  What a great lifestyle brand.  If they continue to offer sincere marketing promotions to its customers, I am sure it will convert many more of them, not that they have not already, into loyals, like I do.

A healthy and balanced body brings a healthy mind.  And a healthy mind brings fortune in life.  Not a great saying perhaps, but it’s my saying.


Read Full Post »

Swipe Baby, Swipe!

Trying to take advantage of all the bargains and promotional offers in town is not an easy task.  It takes efforts to do the necessary homework to hopefully save a few bucks.  Lately I have been following closely to all the promotional cash back deals offered by virtually every other credit card issuing bank in the city, and I have to admit it is much harder than it looks.

A couple of years ago cash back promotions were less common.  The banks were more focused on acquisitions and to grow their card holder base as quickly as possible.  Most deals were focused on flat screen TV, Sony Playstation, or the latest mobile phone model as welcome gifts.  It seems that most cardholders nowadays own enough cards that the acquisition base is getting smaller.  The issuers need to now focus on initiating spend value on cards.  If we don’t swipe, they will not make merchant fees. 

So you now have all the major supermarkets, electronics stores, department stores and pharmacies linked up with different card issuers, offering cash back to induce spend on cards.  The catch is that they make it so complicated that it requires diligence, preparation and photographic memory to figure all this out.

1. Get the mailings

First you need to know what deals there are available for your card(s).  Some issuers send you direct mailing, but usually by the time you receive them, a few days have passed since the limited promotional period begins.  For those issuers who have a huge card base, they advertise on newspapers instead since direct mailings are relatively more expensive.  The digitally inclined may get to hear about the offers via e-mail. 

2. Remember the promotional period

Each offer is valid only through limited time.  Most concentrate around the holiday season when we do most of our purchases.  Some however limit the offers only from Fridays to Sundays. 

3. Know the qualification spending threshold

Each offer requires a minimum spending amount per transaction in order to qualify for the cash back.  It’s not entirely out of reach, but it means you should accumulate your purchases to a particular day during the weekend to meet the threshold.

4. Register

I don’t know why they cannot let everyone just enjoy the offer provided the above criteria is met.  No no, they need you to register for it by dialling their hotline, or online via their website.  If you don’t, you have no cash back.

5. Figure out how much cash back you are entitled

They make it so tempting on the flyers that your cash back entitlement can go as high as 50% of your purchase amount.   So when you register, you will get into a draw and realize how much percentage cash back you will get for the entire promotional period.  You register once and the same percentage stays on throughout the whole period.  Of course, I presume most cardholders get the lowest cash back entitlement, which is normally around 8%.

6. Understand the maximum cash back you can get

Even if you are satisfied with the 8% cash back (a penny is a penny), they also tell you what maximum cash back amount you can ever get within the period.  So no point of making any advance purchase if you have already met your rebate ceiling.

7. When will I see the cash?

Finally, you will be pleased to find out the rebate will be credited back into your account 6 months after the promotional period ends.  Remember to check your account, and hopefully you wouldn’t have forgotten about the whole thing or terminated your card for whatever reason.

Alright, multiply the above steps by 3 or 4 times for the total participating issuers and I guarantee you will be as lost as I am.  Now when I need to make a purchase, I have lost count as to what else I should buy, which card I should use, what day today is, and most likely, why I am seduced to spend more by the illusionary savings programs. 

Bravo on the marketers!

Read Full Post »

The Sale Must Go On

The other morning I went to this Christian Dior bargain sale supposedly filled with merchandise up to 70% off retail.  Last year’s sale was quite good and I got a suit, a few tees and a pair of pants.  This time, 30 minutes after opening the room was already jam-packed with bargain hunters, and there was already a line of about 50 people eagerly waiting to get in.

This year the Dior Homme selection is pathetically scarce.  It looks very much like an outlet sale of leftover items either too loud in color (shocking pink and red), or off-season merchandise.  Women seemed to have better luck scouting for dresses and handbags.  Although I waited in line for an hour, it only took me 15 minutes to finish reviewing the men section.  There was nothing wearable.  I found one suit I really liked and it fitted me extremely well, but there was no pants included.  What did they do with this supposedly 2-piece suit (the tag says so)?  Prices also seem to be higher than last year as well.  I was debating within myself whether I should get the suit jacket as a mix-and-match item, or maybe go to my tailor to have a pair of pants made up.  However once I saw the check-out line of at least a two-hour wait, I put the jacket back on the shelf and announced my departure.

I guess this is a good sign that this year’s economy is so good that they don’t have much items left for end of season sale.  Their HK$15,000 dollar tag is no longer one that needs pondering through.  Our mainland China brothers and sisters are forking out millions of renminbi because our rack rates are like 15% off for them due to the weak Hong Kong dollar.   Who need to wait for sales now? 

On the corporate level I am seeing all of us hurting because of the weak dollar.  The outsourced services I am buying has seen skyrocketed prices and it seems all I am doing lately is to negotiate down a price increase, NOT further discounts.  In procurement these days we are spending more and more efforts on these types of cost avoidance possibilities.  Our finance counterparts are skeptic about our achievement because it may not bring back bottom line savings to the company, but my view is that if we have done nothing, my clients could have paid 15% or 20% more.  This 15% or 20% avoidance takes loads of negotiation and bargaining efforts, but this effort very often goes unappreciated. 

Corporate buying is therefore quite different from personal buying.  For us we hypnotize ourselves of these mega sales and claim victory of the “savings” and bargains we get.  We work for it by standing in lines, researching on-line, exchanging shopping gossips through friends and on Facebook.   In corporate buying we have to measure savings scientifically off last purchased prices.  It works on repeated purchase items, but for the work carried out in sourcing and negotiating for newly purchased services and products, such methodology is not exactly a good reflection of our work.

Well well, in the meantime I am now heading off to another pre-sale event beginning tonight, all for myself!

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: