This the season or so they say, although here in Nepal I am not quite sure when the shopping season really begins or ends. Is it just before Dashain, when we buy household goods and a fresh coat of paint for the living room? Or is it during Tihar, when we buy our sisters that special something we know she pines for? Or perhaps it is Christmastime, when we exchange gifts not really knowing why? Well, whenever you best shop, I am here to give you a bit of advice, as well as to relay my shopping experiences in this shopping capital of Nepal. I do this with the best of intentions and only because I was trained to be the best shopper one could ever be – by my mom!
Let me explain. I grew up under racks of hanging clothes in department stores while my mom shopped continually throughout the day. This was normal behavior for any American housewife back in the 1950’s; she would bring us out in baby buggies or tethered to a leash for her daily shopping regimen, and our pre-school playground was either the shoe department (where we could cause no harm) or the women’s clothes department, where my mom could keep an eye on us as she rummaged through sale bins. But never ever were we allowed to play in the toy department - that would have been crazy. There lies the great shopping secret that I inherited from my mother: hardly ever buy anything! Look, but don’t touch if underage, and compare prices at multitudes of shops before making that rare purchase. Sound familiar?
It should, especially if you are any one of the Nepali shoppers that I’ve encountered on New or Butterfly Roads in our fair city, going from shop to shop looking for say a new computer keyboard, and settling on one exactly like the dozen others touched in a dozen other shops, but on the one that is just a few rupees less. Inherently, the Nepalis of today shop just as my American Mom did back in 1958, proving perhaps that proper shopping techniques are cross-cultural and timeless.
However, on the other side of the coin, selling here in Nepal is an entirely different ball of string. This is where the cultural divide widens into an abyss of a shopping mess. In short, while Nepalis know how to shop, they unfortunately don’t know how to sell well. Let me give you just a few examples of shopping here vs. shopping elsewhere in our consumer-driven world…
First, kudos for Nepal’s great mom & pop shops, as most of the western world has all but eliminated these, replacing them with big-box shops like Costco and Walmart (abominations, in my mind). I still get a cup of tea when I shop for drapes or floor coverings here - a big plus in my mind - but while shopping for technology at a Nepali “Branded” showroom, buyers beware.
Take a recent shopping trip of mine, when I went to Samsung looking for a microwave that baked, grilled and fried. It was that, or learn how to cook using firewood. I was very specific with the sales gal, who showed me three models that purported to do just what I needed, and of course, I chose the least expensive of the three. Come to find out when I got home, the model purchased did not smart-fry (or whatever the nerdy term was). So I called the branded shop and found out no, they would not exchange what I had bought for what I wanted, and I was just flat out of luck. Whaa! So much for the age-old adage “the customer is always right.”
But at least I got a “fresh piece.” I had never heard this term before moving to Nepal, and was shocked to find out that yes, those dusty items on the shelves is just what you get, as stock is limited to what you see. So countless times I’ve had to say no - forgettaboutit - when I find an item that I want, but can’t settle for something that looks like it was used by the staff. That’s something my mom would have never stood for, no matter how hard the clerk tried to furiously dust the item off.
Then there is the issue of shopper’s space and proper shopping etiquette. Shop assistants here need to learn that shoppers don’t need to be followed so closely around the store, just as my dog would do if they let him in! If I need you, I’ll call you (in my broken Nepali) and I don’t mean to be rude, but I need my space while I shop. Proper etiquette should also be taught at the Institute of Higher Shopping, Kalanki. Never tell your wife, who is looking for a party dress for her niece, “That won’t fit you” as she pulls the dress from the rack. That will hurt your bottom line as well as insulting your customer’s.
And one last note to all KTM sellers: keep giving us buyers a discount! Fixed prices with those insufferable price tags that won’t come off is another abomination of western shopping now flagrant in Nepal. Since the dawn of time, sellers and buyers have been engaged in the wondrous activity of bartering for goods and services. This is a language that breaks down all barriers, and could even bring about world peace. Even my mom would insist on every purchase being a “sale” item - the western version of a discount. Every buyer wants one, and it’s so easy for every seller to give one. It’s these little things, like a 5% discount and a friendly cup of tea, that make shopping in Nepal such a joy.