A Lesson in Bargaining
Before it became one of the world’s most expensive cities, Simone had a three-day layover in Singapore with her airline flight crew. The city was famous for duty-free shopping, which was almost as good as Hong Kong’s. She wasn’t much of a shopper, but this time Simone made an exception because of Mona, her crewmate from Lebanon. Mona had fiery auburn hair, smoldering brown eyes, and her cultural background dictated, “No buying without bargaining.”
They headed to the bank early the first morning. Mona needed money before they embarked on the search for new treasures awaiting their discovery. In the excitement to get going, they were too early, and the bank was still closed. But, Mona spied a Persian rug shop across the street, and it was open.
“Let’s go over there until the bank opens,” she suggested.
It looked to be an interesting way to pass the time while waiting for the bank to open, and off they went to check it out.
As they entered the shop, a short round middle-aged Indian man wearing threadbare attire arose from the three-legged stool on which he had been squatting.
“Welcome to my humble store,” he said. “How may I help you?” They returned his greeting and began browsing through the assorted piles of carpets. The shop was little more than a hole in the wall stuffed with rugs that covered the walls and rose from the floor in stacks that left little room for maneuvering.
Mona found a medium-sized rug she liked and began to bargain for a lower price. It was evident she knew the desired features of Persian rugs and had mastered the art of bargaining. Simone watched and learned. By the time Mona started working on the purchase of a second rug, Simone was thoroughly captivated by the process's intense spirit and decided to give it a try.
“This is a nice one,” she ventured as she examined a small rug.
“Ahhh, yes, Miss! You have a good eye,” the merchant said and began pointing out its superior qualities of design and color.
“How much is it?”
“This one is exceptional,” he said before naming his price. His demeanor suggested he was reluctant to part with such a prize
Sighing in disappointment at a cost beyond her means, Simone put the rug aside.
“This one is very special,” he quickly added. “The colors are so deep and vibrant; such beautiful reds and blues are very rare.”
“I like it, but the price is too high,” she lamented.
“How much can you offer?” he pleaded.
And so began a long process of negotiations over price. While Mona was completing the purchase of two rugs, Simone was practicing her newly acquired bargaining skills.
After three hours of hard negotiating, Simone and the shopkeeper settled on an agreement for a three-rug deal at a third of the original asking price. Backing out now was not an option for Simone, though she felt guilty for having taken such advantage of the poor struggling merchant. Mona assured her that her choices were well-founded, and Simone became the owner of three Persian rugs she hadn’t planned to buy when setting out from the hotel that morning. But it had been a lot of fun, and she was happy with her purchases.
Mona was a good teacher!
They hustled off to the bank for more money and then hurried on to Orient Crafts, a popular tourist destination. After that, they visited more shops and bargained for more treasures. Their final stop was the Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling in memory of Ernest Hemingway because they had heard he used to hang out there with his buddies. There was no bargaining at the Raffles, for which Simone was very thankful. She was loaded down with newly acquired treasures and exhausted from heavy-duty bartering.
Mona was a very good teacher!
It was time to call it a day well spent, and they headed back to the hotel for a well-earned rest. As they hauled the day’s bounty through the hotel lobby, the reception desk duty-clerk called out, “Ladies, ladies, wait, please. There’s a message here for you.”
It was a note from the rug merchant, inviting them to join him for dinner that evening. It reignited Simone’s feelings of guilt for so heartlessly beating down the poor man’s prices. How could she in good conscience allow him to take them out to dinner after such heartless haggling? They called to decline politely, but he persuaded them to accept his invitation, and they arranged to meet in the hotel lobby.
At the appointed time, a young man wearing a uniform approached them in the lobby and said, “Mr. Kapoor is waiting in the car.”
Mona and Simone exchanged questioning looks.
“From the rug shop,” he clarified.
With only a brief hesitation, they followed him to the hotel entrance wondering how wise it was to follow a stranger into the night. But, Singapore is a very safe city, and their training instilled confidence. He led them to the very latest and most luxurious model of Jaguar, where the rug merchant was waiting. Gone was his shabby morning apparel, replaced by a well-tailored shirt and slacks, and his worn sandals had given way to Italian loafers, making his more ordinary appearance somewhat disappointing. All of Simone’s guilty feelings over her hard bargaining vanished as they climbed through the car’s ultra-plush carpeting and sank back into cloud-soft leather seats.
On the way to dinner, Mr. Kapoor related a Chinese proverb, which believes that you will have a good day if you can sell to your first customer of the day. As thanks for a very good day, he was treating them to dinner at Singapore's most exclusive non-white club and counting on them to promote his little Singapore rug store to their future passengers.
Simone owed it all to Mona. Without her two purchases and the accompanying bargaining lesson to rope her in, Mr. Kapoor’s sales for that day would have been five rugs shorter. And they still had two more days to shop!
She was very thankful that Mona was such a great teacher!