The Booksale Effect and Shopping in Saigon

The Booksale Effect (noun)
1. The buying phenomenon that every book worm/saving shopper experiences in the used books bookstore BOOKSALE
2. During this phenomenon, the buyer gets cheaper deals on originally more expensive items like rare magazines and books for about Php100 or less (around $2 or less). Because the price per book/magazine is cheaper, the buyer tends to purchase more, ending up with 5 or more titles for about Php 200-500. (eg. I bought the Details magazine with Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the cover for Php 400 when it was just released. A friend got it for Php 100 several months after in Booksale.)
3. Despite the cheaper sale, consumers still end up spending the same amount as they would on one newly released or unused book in a bookstore such as Powebooks, National Bookstore, or Fully Booked. The wallet suffers just as much, but the buyer ends up with more purchases.

Johna Baylon and Gela Velasco’s Booksale shopping experiences. Effects are obvious when one says “Sorry, I can’t buy snacks/go out/go shopping because I went to booksale last night…”

I experienced this phenomenon on a larger scale while canvasing prices and shopping for goodies in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. High inflation (no) thanks to the devastating effects of the war turn the middle class Filipino and backpacking European tourist into a millionaire in Vietnam. Similar to bargain deals in Bangkok, Greenhills, and Divisoria, buying in bulk lets you grab more than enough products at an outrageously cheap price. For instance, I was able to get an elaborately designed cloth bag at $5 (VND 100,000 or Php 220). Getting up early on my last day allowed me to purchase 8 shirts at around Php 500.

But the unfortunate wallet-busting effects of the Booksale effect can be avoided, even in foreign trips that are done to treat one’s self after several months of hard work. Splurges are great boosts of confidence, but spending more than your means is never a good idea. To make sure I still came home with enough money, I spent half a day comparing prices among the stalls in the Ben Tanh Market and the tourist shops along Bui Vien street. Both these locations are within the backpacker area of Ho Chi Minh (near the mid-range to budget hotels and hostels, as well as tour group companies) which makes visitors vulnerable to overpriced products, but also lucky enough to find rare (ie not found in the Philippines) goods at affordable prices.

Based on my trip, the fixed prices along Bui Vien street were a lot cheaper than the charges of vendors in Ben Tanh Market. The downside to shopping at Saigon’s famous market is that you are among other tourists–Western tourists, in particular, who can afford more than a middle-class Filipino tourist. Their presence led the vendors to charge me the same overpriced charges for one or several products. Buying several products is not enough to get a decent deal in the Ben Tanh Market; in fact, if the price is not stated at first, you might end up paying more than you should. Look for a stall with the prices printed or written down for you to see. It does not help to ask, as they might first estimate how much you’re buying and then decide what to charge.

My short shopping experience led me back to the fixed price stalls in the market and along Bui Vien Street. The vendors here are less aggressive, and although bargaining is not common practice, at least one gets fair and affordable deals on the products sold. No one intends to rip you off or take advantage of your hungry shopping tourist appetite. If you’re an avid shopper, remember that it’s not only important to just have stuff; it’s more important to purchase what you need without being cheated.


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