“Mac Qua!”: Why We Bargain in Vietnam

By: Tran Thi Minh Hieu

Bargaining might seem like a strange custom to first time visitors to Vietnam. Most of us are used to the fixed price system in supermarkets and malls, so it may be perplexing to walk into Ben Thanh Market, one of the oldest and largest markets in Saigon, and bargain your way down to half the initial price to get a simple souvenir.

There’s a history behind that.

The Old System

Before the introduction of the price tag, the only way to learn the price of an item was to ask the seller. It was entirely up to the seller to say whatever price they wanted as an invitation to bargain, and the buyer, having a general idea of what it should cost or a benchmark in mind, would adjust their offer accordingly.

bargainImage source: footprint.vn

The conversation would and still does go on for as long as one has the patience for it. Some sellers are more firm than others about their pricing strategy, and steadfast buyers can simply walk away when they don’t get the price they want. Sometimes this will make the seller think twice–—they’d rather make a sale for a lesser price than let a competitor get the sale.

Ask the Locals

If you want to learn how to bargain properly and effectively, ask an older Vietnamese person. Bargaining creates an opportunity for personal interaction, as opposed to a more convenient yet more impersonal purchase at a supermarket. This is why Vietnamese people from older generations still enjoy bargaining as a part of their life.

“You can haggle at almost every local store. It’s a common practice”, said Tran Van, a pensioner in his sixties. “For example, when I want to buy a chair I look up the price on the Internet, and then I go to a nearby store and they name a higher price. I’ll haggle until they give me a reasonable price.”

bargainImage source: blog.vemay

“Even when there is a price tag on the clothes, I still ask for a lower price to see if they give in”, Le Phuong, a middle-aged housewife added.

Meanwhile, younger people who’ve grown up with fixed prices already commonplace in many stores are more hesitant to bargain.

A group of office girls in their twenties who spoke to #iAMHCMC for this piece said they usually bargain only when going to the market. They feel that haggling in other places is uncomfortable and unwelcome, and they’d rather leave the store in peace. Saving face is more important than saving a few thousand dong, is an apt summary of what these young women shared.

Live Like a Local

Olia Raphaeleva, a young artist from Moscow said she has developed a rough idea of how things are priced after two years living in Vietnam. And with a basic command of Vietnamese phrases—“Bao nhieu?” (“How much”) and “Mac qua!” (“Too expensive!”)—she has become familiar with the process.

bargainImage source: madmonkeyhostels.com

“If the price is not fixed, I can talk about price”, she said with confidence. “As soon as I speak some Vietnamese in a friendly way, and show that I’m interested in buying it, only the price makes me hesitated [sic]. They will give me a lower price.”

When asked what she’d do if the seller refuses to give in, she replied, “I just walk away. They will run after me and tap on my shoulder and I’ll go back and get what I want.”

GIF source: giphy.com

Raphaeleva lives in a Hanoi neighborhood unfrequented by tourists. She has a few favorite stores that she often goes to for clothes, groceries and art supplies, and she usually gets a discount from the owner for being a friendly loyal customer.

“I always go to this hairdresser and once she just gave me a free haircut. And this morning, when I walked by the grocery store near my home, the owner bought me a beer. This has happened many times before.”

She noted that wherever she went, in Vietnam or India or Thailand, people tend to assume foreigners are rich, so they are surprised to learn that she also needs to save money and haggle to buy reasonably priced stuff. But since she lives among local people and gets acquainted with them, they start treating her more like a special friend than a foreigner.

It seems that no matter where you come from, you can learn new skills and appreciate different customs, and bargaining is one of those. It is part of life in Vietnam, so don’t be shy and embrace the experience.

Video source: Collin Abroadcast

A Super Brief History of Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh Market was first created as an informal gathering of street vendors near Ben Nghe River, now called Saigon River.

The name Ben Thanh came from the location of the market between a river port (“ben”) and Saigon’s ancient citadel (“thanh”), Gia Dinh, which was destroyed by the occupying French in a military struggle that preceded the establishment of the French colony Cochinchina. After the French colonial powers demolished the Gia Dinh citadel in 1859, they formally established Ben Thanh Market, and moved it to the current building in 1912.

Banner Image source: c1.staticflickr.com


Top 5 places to go shopping in Ho Chi Minh City

By: Vinh Dao

Top 5 places to go shopping in Ho Chi Minh City

While French colonial architecture, exotic and cheap food along with the countless tourist attractions are the main draws to Ho Chi Minh City, the city is a mecca for shopping diehards. There are plenty of options for those looking for a high-end shopping experience or if you are searching for a bargain.

Vincom Center

Located smack dab in the middle of town, Vincom is one of Ho Chi Minh City's newest shopping centres. It boasts has eight levels that house more than 250 shops and you can find international brands such as Aldo, Armani, FCUK alongside high end local outlets such as Fanny Ice Cream . The food court at Vincom Center feels more like a collection of nice restaurants rather than a hodgepodge of unrelated greasy chains.

Local insight: They have recently opened Vincom A, which is located down the street on 171 Dong Khoi.
Address:72 Lê Thánh Tôn and 45A Lý Tự Trọng, District 1

Dong Khoi

Ho Chi Minh City’s high street, Dong Khoi has local boutique shops competing with international brands along with chic restaurants set in beautifully restored French colonial buildings.

Local insight:The street was known as Rue Catinat during the French colonial days and Tu Do in the 1960’s.

Saigon Square

A cross between a shopping mall and a bazaar,  Saigon Square is literally packed to the roof with everything from DVD’s to ersatz luxury watches and blue jeans. Frequented by expatriates and locals alike, cheap copies of designer sportswear rub shoulders with fashion brands. The quality is fake, but the price is right, that is if you can bargain hard.

Local insight: There is a second location on 7-9 Ton Duc Thang which has just slightly better prices than the original.
Address: 77 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 1

Ben Thanh Market

The granddaddy of the Saigon markets, this market opened it’s doors in 1914. A bustling affair, this is a great place to pick up a souvenir or three. As it is the main tourist market in the city, prices tend to reflect it and you have to bargain hard, even if there is a price tag on the item you would like. It is also a great place to get some local cuisine. Prices are just above what locals pay but pretty tasty all the same.

Local insight: At night, the streets outside the market turns into a night bazaar with souvenir shops and ad hoc restaurants.
Address: Intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, and Le Lai

Binh Tay Market

Built in 1928, this is the central market of Cholon, which is known as the Chinese district. The largest market in town spanning four blocks, most of the business is done wholesale here. While the market doesn’t stock souvenirs and other tourist fare, it does house some of the most interesting architecture in the city and the dominant yellow clock tower makes it a photographer’s dream.

Local insight: Just down the road on Tran Hung Dao street are a swath of textile shops where you can get some of the cheapest deals in town.
Address: 57 Tháp Mười, 2, District 6

Hope this list gives you some options for shopping in Ho Chi Minh City!


Other articles:

Top 5 things to do in Danang

Top 5 souvenirs to buy in Vietnam

Top 5 things to do in Quy Nhon

Top 5 dishes to try in Nha Trang

Top 5 things to do in Nha Trang

Top 5 dishes to eat in Hanoi

Top 5 Che-sweet soups must try in Saigon



A Dragon’s Sống: Metiseko’s New Sustainable Silk Collection

By: Molly Headley

Designing textiles that value both artistry and ethics.

The importance of a positive workplace.

Whether it’s luxurious silks or quality cottons, Metiseko has exactly what you’re looking for.

Sống - Definition: life [noun], to live [verb]

In the Metiseko silk boutique at 101 Dong Khoi in Saigon, an array of beautifully displayed garments beckons visitors to step inside and run the glossy silk through their hands. Ruby red dragon scales wind their way through cumulus clouds on a bomber jacket in Metiseko’s signature print - Long Dao, while across the room, tangerine waves awaken electric blue depths on a flowy dress in the Sunrise print. Beyond their beauty, there is an ethical advantage and underlying meaning woven into each piece in Metiseko’s new Sống collection. 

Metiseko

Vietnamese Artisans and Universal Elements 

Designed to stir the viewer to delve into the legend of Vietnam, The Land of the Dragon, the hand screen printed mulberry silk textiles are splashed with motifs from traditional folk paintings. Air, Water and Fire, the elements that are believed in the East to make up the universe, create an additional layer of meaning. 

The colour palette of the Sống collection was created to reflect the theatricality of Cải Lương, the country’s traditional opera, with shades of tangerine, carmine, black and Persian blue. This bold collection is a departure from their previous botanical prints and water coloured pastels.

Metiseko was created with the idea of designing textiles that value both artistry and ethics with a strong Made in Vietnam identity. 

Metiseko

How Positivity in the Workplace Results in Excellence at Metiseko 

One of the first truly sustainable and fair-labour fashion brands in Vietnam, Metiseko is constantly working towards complete transparency in the production process. Every piece in Metiseko’s repertoire is made by one single artisan, from the first cut into the fabric to the finishing touches. The company uses the small production motto of “Sell one piece. Make one piece.” 

As Owner and General Director Erwan Perzo put it... 

“When you buy something from us, you’re truly purchasing the work of an artisan from A to Z...” 

Metiseko

Beyond simply constructing the pieces in the collection that end up in their boutiques, there is a strong ethos behind the work at Metiseko. Organic; sustainable; ethical; handcrafted...these are buzz words that actually mean something to the company. 

Things such as fair wages, reasonable working hours, medical insurance for workers and their children, partnered with low environmental impact dyes and Global Organic Textile Standards certifications create a positive workplace and low staff turnover that is difficult to surpass in Vietnam. 

Metiseko

Two Textile Universes in Saigon 

Dong Khoi, Ho Chi Minh City’s premiere luxury shopping avenue is home to two separate Metiseko stores. One encompasses their organic cotton collections while the other showcases gorgeous mulberry silk pieces. Above Metiseko’s Silk Boutique, you can also shop the artisanal homewares of Sadéc District Boutique, as well as quality lingerie offered by Miss30, making 101 Dong Khoi a true stand-alone shopping destination, celebrating local design and local creativity. In District 2, their newly redesigned store features a curated selection of both collections. 

Metiseko

Metiseko’s screen printed textiles and ethical ideology optimise quality and consumer confidence while constantly reinventing their creations. It takes commitment and hard work, but in the Land of the Dragon the creative inspirations run deep. 

Where to Shop for Metiseko in Vietnam:

SILK BOUTIQUES 

101 Đồng Khởi, P. Bến Nghé, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
140 Trần Phú, Minh An, Hoi An

TANMY DESIGN CORNER 

61 Hang Gai, Hoan Kiem District, Ha Noi

ORGANIC COTTON BOUTIQUES

157 Đồng Khởi, P. Bến Nghé, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
142 Trần Phú, Minh An, Hoi An

SNAP CAFE BOUTIQUE

32 Tran Ngoc Dien, district 2, Ho Chi Minh City

VICTORIA CORNER

Victoria beach resort & spa, Cua Dai Beach, Hoi An

www.metiseko.com

Image source: Metiseko


The Sweet Success of Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat

By: Lucie Sherwood

Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou joined forces and their names to create the Marou brand. Both co-founders have been dedicated to the Made in Vietnam concept from the beginningproducing their chocolate within the country and buying small batches of top quality cacao from local farmers.

Maison Marou

Samuel Maruta, explained the importance of ingredients to Marou, “We are a bit like a chef who goes to the market every morning to find the freshest products.”

The chocolatiers make it their mission to find excellent ingredients while maintaining their commitment to sourcing locally.

Marou sells mostly dark chocolate - at around 70% cacao content - a trend which Maruta believes was instigated by the increasing French taste for higher percentages. Marou also produces several other products, including a dairy-free milk chocolate made with coconut milk.

Maison Marou

At Maison Marou, the brand’s flagship Ho Chi Minh City cafe, the chefs experiment with more adventurous recipes, such as a ganache infused with the same spices that are used to make Vietnamese pho. Marou has expanded its offering at this central Saigon hub to also feature a gourmet pastry menu, which offers some of the best desserts in the city.

Maruta outlined the journey that he and Vincent Mourou have been on for the past seven years since the inception of Maroufrom two friends making chocolate in their kitchen to a business which has two shops, a factory and a team of almost one hundred people. Being an entrepreneur means both freedom and responsibility to Marutathe freedom to make decisions but also the responsibility to our customers and colleagues who have put their trust in us.

Maison Marou

Marou has become known internationally as the specialist brand of Vietnamese chocolate.

Marou’s market is both local and international. The company has a wide range of retailers in Vietnam and abroad as well as plenty of visitors to Vietnam buying the chocolate to take back overseas. Maruta pointed out that chocolate has always made a good gift because it travels well across the world.

In the future, Marou will continue to grow but Samuel Maruta highlighted, “We are big on organic growth.” He said that expansion should not happen at any price and that the company’s principles will always remain at the forefront of their business.

Video source: City Pass Guide

Image source: Maison Marou


The Extended Lifeline of Print Publishing in Vietnam

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

Many of us grew up enjoying the experience of buying a brand new book from a physical bookstore. However, as technology bulldozed its way into our lives, along came e-commerce and online bookstores like Amazon, where you can buy your favourite novels without even leaving your home. Therein signalled the death knell of physical bookstores around the world with major chains such as Borders shutting up shop as well as smaller book boutiques being run out of business.

The Vietnamese Paradox

However, a global issue might not necessarily be a Vietnamese issue. According to Waka, the largest online book library available in Vietnam, the number of published printed books numbered 67,000 copies in 2017, the highest on record since the last peak of 65,000 in 2015.

Of these published books, 93 percent were released in Vietnamese, with English books only making up 4% of the total figures. A majority of these were children's books and literature for adults.

booksImage source: c1.staticflickr.com

News of the decline in printed books sales and the death of bookstores in other developed countries might seem like a strange phenomenon to the Vietnamese. The sales figures of printed books in Vietnam show a different trend: sales are up.

The total revenue of printed books in 2017 was an estimated VND5.9 trillion, much higher than 2014’s VND4.92 trillion.

Resistance to Change

One reason for the phenomenon is that while e-books are becoming increasingly popular around the world and are showing huge potential for development in recent years, only 137 publications out of the nearly 26,000 released in Vietnam in 2017 became digital publications, according to statistics by the Department of Publishing, Printing and Issuing under the Ministry of Information and Communications.

booksImage source: c1.staticflickr.com

The number of published e-books have actually been on a steady decline with an estimated 635 releases in 2017, a huge drop from 2,774 in 2015.

Arguably, this is due to Vietnam’s publishing houses not giving enough attention and investment to developing applications that will enable users to read publications online or through a device. This indifference from the Vietnamese publishing industry towards e-books is probably the thread that’s keeping printed books on the shelf.

A Dying Habit

So while printed books still remain a part of life in Vietnam, the habit of taking time to savour what is read is slowly starting to fade with many opting to read content from their smartphones and tablets. Instead of reading books, many people prefer spending their time on social networks, with an estimated 36.75 million Vietnamese users in 2017. Some people are also turning to online games and films during their free time.

GIF source: giphy.com

According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Centre in 2016, the average adult in the world reads four books a year, a drop from six books in the 2012 survey.

A survey done by Japan’s National Federation of University Co-operative Associations announced that more than half of Japanese university students do not read outside their required studies with about 53.1 percent of respondents admitting to never reading physical books.

Video source: Improvement Pill

According to Nhan Dan Online, the average Vietnamese reads 1.2 books a year, way below the global average which leads to a puzzling paradox - who’s buying all these paper books? Unfortunately, statistics have thus far given us no clues.

An Inevitable End?

Maybe the only reason books haven’t gone extinct in Vietnam is due to publishers still being skeptical of digital alternatives. However, times change and mindsets too, and it may only a matter of time before the global trend reaches Vietnam and paper books start to disappear.

booksImage source: c1.staticflickr.com

In the meantime, it is still not too late to visit a bookstore in Vietnam and enjoy turning the paper pages of a novel, if anything, to reminisce and to keep a part of what may soon be history.

Banner Image source: ibb.co


Key Opinion Leaders: Influencing Retail Decisions in Vietnam

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

The term “influencer marketing” is a common marketing buzzword used globally by brands and advertising agencies to target specific groups of consumers by involving an individual or personality with a strong social media presence to create branded and unbranded content.

Influencers—also generally referred to as Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)—are seen as both ambassadors for a particular brand and a representation of the typical consumer with an opinion that goes far and wide, thereby being able to influence consumer choices.

By helping to build awareness and sales among a target demographic—usually the tech-savvy and those who spend more time online than in front of the television—influencer marketing is on its way to becoming more popular than traditional marketing tactics relying on print and television ads.

Influencers in ShoppingImage source: www.cmo.com

The Country’s Influencers in Various Industries

So who are the notable influencers in Vietnam today?

According to Influence Asia Council, Vietnamese influencers are listed in various categories. Well-known “Beauty” KOLs include: Changmakeup, Chloe Nguyen, Trinh Pham and Quynh Anh Shyn.Decao, Chau Bui and Kelbin Lei are sought after for their opinions on fashion. And for food, Helen Le, Kiyoshi Jiro, Ninh Tito and Esheep Kitchen top the charts in terms of followers and social media reach.

Other content categories where these figures are active include health, lifestyle and parenting. YouTube personalities such as An Nguy, Pho Dac Biet, JVEvermind and HuyMe Productions are also constantly engaged by brands to incorporate branded and unbranded content into their channels.

Becoming an Influencer

Celebrity endorsements on television commercials are still a common marketing tool for brands. However, these commercials are mostly staged and the personality in question may or may not actually be using these products.

This is part of what gives the opinions of KOLs a stronger edge. They typically have active Instagram and Facebook accounts specialising in a particular topic, and they start to gain recognition as an opinion leader.

Beauty bloggers for example, often start off by highlighting products which they feel are best for their skin and by applying the products in front of a camera. They then post reviews about the product. This format gives consumers a chance to see the products in action, with a credible review by someone who actually used it.

Sometimes the road to becoming an influencer can appear by chance. For example, when popular YouTube content—like video game commentary by bloggers like PewdiePie, or even videos of new products getting unboxed by tech geeks—receive high viewer numbers the content creator can be transformed into an influencer.

GIF source: Chloe Nguyen

Almost Everyone Online Follows One

In Vietnam, influencer marketing has reached new heights with global brands such as Samsung getting into the fray. Samsung recently launched their Galaxy S9 phone with a campaign featuring YouTube personalities creating content using the phone’s camera and highlighting its enhanced slow motion feature.

More than 60 percent of internet users of all age groups in Vietnam have interacted with an influencer by either liking or sharing their content, according to consumer research firm DI Marketing.

Nearly half of internet users have gone one step further and commented directly on the content.

Most internet users in the country rely on Facebook or YouTube to follow influencers. According to a 2016 survey by DI Marketing, 84 percent of respondents follow an influencer on Facebook, 61 percent on YouTube and 59 percent rely on online news sites. The wide reach of these influencers is the main reason why marketers in the country are resorting to social networks as a key marketing channel.

Three Modes of Engagement

There are three styles that define the way influencers and brands interact.

The first is that of mutual benefit.

Influencers and brands can share a symbiotic relationship by giving influencers the freedom to post content the way they always do, while incorporating the brand’s message. This was achieved by Samsung Vietnam, with the Samsung Insider Circle, a community made up of invited influencers with tailor-made content for the brand. This allows influencers to post Samsung-related content on their own channels without veering away from their usual content and still get paid for it.

One example would be the social media campaign for the new Galaxy S9 phone where KOLs such as beauty blogger Chloe Nguyen released videos of her usual makeup routines that were shot on the phone, using its “super slo-mo” function and uploaded on her Facebook and Instagram accounts. Although the actual video was unbranded, the captions that accompanied the videos, including the hashtags #samsung_vietnam and #WithGalaxyS9 were more than enough for audiences to know what camera the videos were shot on.

The second style is drawing the KOLs by designing events tailored to the influencer’s needs.

Influencer marketing is still a very new trend and many brands view influencers as a media channel, instead of a creative in their own right. Le Meridien Saigon solved this by offering a 6-month long campaign that invited influencers to give workshops and be a part of the hotel’s coterie of luminaries.

The third style is to provide a real experience.

The current practice among beauty brands is to provide a sample of their product to an influencer to showcase and review, which usually yields a positive response by the influencer.

For the launch of beauty brand Kiehl’s’ Calendula line for example, they created a creative concept titled Peace, Love and Calendula and sent out physical invites to influencers for an event at Takashimaya Saigon. At the event, beauty bloggers were invited to the Kiehl’s counter to get exclusive access to the products, and the chance to meet their fans while at it.

Influencers in ShoppingImage source: www.diva-in-me.com

This turned what could have just been a digital campaign, into an interactive, offline experience where products could be seen and touched and the audience could see the product applied in real time on their favourite personality, instead of just through a cold photograph or video on their newsfeed.

If You’re Big, It Pays

As the relationship between brand and influencer continues to evolve, with more integrated brand messaging platforms thanks to digital marketing agencies and influencer platforms innovating ways to reach bigger audiences, being an influencer might just be a legitimate career path for those seeking to establish themselves as a credible source of information, while enjoying the spotlight and the many benefits that come with it.

YouTube pays the most, according to Forbes. Those with 7 million followers earned US$300,000 for sponsored content. On Facebook and Instagram, the influencers reported earnings roughly half that.

Influencer platforms such as Hiip, the largest in Vietnam, has a database of over 2000 influencers with a clientele that includes international brands such as Heineken and Unilever. There are also dedicated media production companies such as Yeah1 Network that specialise in working together with influencers to create video content for them in partnership with brands.

Influencers in ShoppingImage source: image.vtc.vn

Ultimately, it is up to the influencer to determine if they want to be a credible source of information for their followers, or turn into a media channel themselves by becoming the bridge between brand and consumer, or in an ideal situation, striking the right balance between both. This can only be done by being particular with the campaigns they choose to get themselves into and not be bogged down by posting content they don’t believe in.

Banner Image source: Shutterstock

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