The Nation, Lahore

8 Jamadi-ul-Awwal, 1418 - Thursday, September 11, 1997, Lahore
Pakistan

Midweek


[cartoon]

Absolutely free

Dr Rana Jawad Asghar

On my way back to the USA from Lahore last week, we had a brief stopover at the Amsterdam. I came out of the airplane just to have a little exercise for my tired legs during such a long journey. I have visited Amsterdam in leisure just a few years back anyway, this time we were only allowed to move around the designated airport area. Like any big international airport, it has really long corridors which are by themselves a good exercise for the legs of the passengers. There were Duty-Free Shops, too. But my experience has proved that these duty-free shops are sometime more expensive than the tax paying shops of the city. So I wasn't very much interested in them. I like perfumes and if I have nothing to do in a shopping mall, I just go to the 'perfumes Corner' and check all the new and old perfumes. Here too. I did that. Then I noticed that perfumes were on sale. And what a generous sale it was! The notice said: "Pick any two perfumes (all best quality and of prestigious brands) for mere US $ 50". It was a real bargain as I was well aware of the actual prices of these perfumes in many different countries. Even though I really didn't need to buy these perfumes but it was really difficult to resist such a bargain. So I bought some.

This is the biggest selling gimmick of the western or say, the capitalist world. Bundle a few things, sell them at a discount and people are going to buy them even if they don't need them. Yesterday, my new roommate was showing me four big size toothpastes which he bought. I was surprised that one big size toothpaste lasts many months if you are the only one using it. He replied, "Well, I had to pay for three toothpastes and the fourth one was free". Great! isn't it?

My new roommate has just come from China and is still new to the money making ways of the businessmen here. There are big discount stores here in the US. One of them is COSCO. First, you have to become a member of this store by paying nearly $ 30. Then everything here is lot cheaper than any where else. But the catch is: you have to buy in bulk. That may be OK, if you have a big family but when I tried to shop there, I was also lured by their lower prices and bought crates of pineapple juice (my favorite), tinned fruits (all in six or twelve pack) and even a pack of nearly 30 croissants. Though, they were selling them at 30-40 per cent of shop price but I normally do not eat them and certainly not in such a big quantity. After that "Cheap" shopping I realised that though I have saved money but I have also bought many useless things and in reality, I was a big looser.

Ever since, I have ceased to go for this "Cheap" shopping and instead, go to the market nearby which though is expensive but I only buy things which I need. This is a consumer society and all its economy is based on spending. I remember when President George Bush was running for his second term and the economy of the USA was not very healthy. To build people's confidence and kick start the economy he had to go to a shopping mall and did his shopping in front of all these TV cameras. Doing business here in the US is a big science.

Nothing is left to the guess. Everything is exhaustively researched before it comes to the market. Even which rack of the shopping mall (which side and what height) is the best selling, all have been studied. Psychologists are hired by these big marketing companies and then a strategy is developed. Now, many things come in bundles. Most of the computer software, video cassettes, grocery items, any thing you name, is in the multi-packs. You want to buy a perfume for $ 50 there, you see a multi-pack of one perfume and a deodorant for $ 60. You don't use deodorant but both are cheap in 60 bucks, so you buy them. In reality you have paid $ 10 extra to them. Sometimes, buying in bulk is good too, when you really use these things a lot, it does not hurt to buy them in multi-packs. For example, three packs of soap is not a big thing to buy. Anyway, most of the soaps sold here are in multi-packs. So when we are offered three or four bundled items on a big discount, we do not realise that though discount is big, we do not need other three items and in fact, are paying more for our merchandise. I am also no better than anyone. Recently, I have bought a very expensive perfume only because I liked the bag they were giving with it and it was absolutely "free".

ŠThe Nation Publications (pvt) Limited, 1997

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