“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


Amazon Makes First Inroads to Vietnam

By: Tran Thi Minh Hieu

Amazon is on its way to set foot in the emerging e-commerce market of Vietnam, while facing fierce competition from its Asian rivals.

In March, Amazon confirmed its cooperation with Vietnam E-Commerce Association (VECOM), an NGO and industry group composed of 172 member businesses.

Amazon’s remarks centered around their interest in helping Vietnamese small and medium businesses export their products through its global online platform.

AmazonImage source: dichvumuahangmy.com

According to Business Insider, the partnership with VECOM may be the first step towards Amazon gaining an understanding of Vietnamese consumers before launching its full marketplace, as it did in Singapore, the first Southeast Asian country Amazon stepped into in July 2017.

Gijae Seong, head of Amazon Global Selling in Singapore, appeared in March at the Vietnam Online Business Forum 2018 to discuss with local businesses how to use Amazon to sell globally.

Amazon and VECOM’s cooperation was welcomed by Vietnamese businesses and consumers alike. VECOM’s president considered the support for exporting Vietnamese products globally a positive development. Meanwhile, consumers were enthusiastic about the prospect of being able to use Amazon to buy international products in the near future.

Alibaba to Respond

Less than one week after Amazon announced the partnership, Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s e-commerce giant Alibaba increased its investment in Lazada, one of the largest e-commerce platforms in Southeast Asia.

AmazonImage source: thepaymentgateway.co

Alibaba spent US$1 billion to buy 51 percent of shares in Lazada in April 2016, and another US$1 billion in 2017 to increase its total shares to 83 percent.

The most recent investment, a whopping US$2 billion, was announced on March 18 along with the decision to name Lucy Peng, one of Alibaba’s founders, as Lazada’s executive in chief.

According to VnEconomy, after two years of operation Lazada has become the top e-commerce website in Vietnam by revenues in 2014, taking up 36.1 percent of the country’s e-commerce market.

Competition and Growth

Vietnam's e-commerce market is one of the fastest growing in the world.

According to market research firm Kantar Worldpanel, Vietnam's e-commerce revenue increased 23 percent to US$5 billion in 2016, accounting for three percent of total retail revenue. The country’s e-commerce annual revenue is forecasted to reach US$10 billion by 2020, accounting for five percent of total retail revenue.

Other than Alibaba, China’s tech and investment giant Tencent also has a lot of interests in the Vietnamese market.

Financial Times reported that Tencent holds a 39.8 percent stake in Singapore-based company Sea, an enterprise that creates e-commerce platforms and services. One of Sea’s assets is online retailer Shopee, Lazada’s biggest competitor in Southeast Asia. Foody.vn, a restaurant review, booking and food delivery services platform, is also owned by Sea. In addition, Tencent is a shareholder of Chinese e-commerce company JD.com and Vietnamese tech firm VNG, a group which invested heavily in local e-commerce site Tiki.vn in January.

AmazonImage source: photo2.tinhte.vn

As Tiki.vn’s CEO Tran Ngoc Thai Son told an audience at a conference in Ho Chi Minh City in December 2017, the appearance of international e-commerce giants is proof that the Vietnamese market has a lot of potential for growth.

It remains to be seen whether Amazon will be successful in getting a foothold in Vietnam as it did in Singapore. Although Chinese competitors may have an advantage in being more familiar with the local infrastructure and customer dynamics, Amazon’s strong global presence and high brand recognition is friendly to Vietnamese consumers who have a demonstrated, strong interest in services with a well-known brand.

Banner Image source: safa.ps


Origins and Organic Cotton: Metiseko, a Sustainable Clothing Brand

By: Molly Headley

“Heatwave … The sand is lightly smoldering under our steps. Heavy palms are quivering and gently rustling in a breeze. The sun is at its highest and the carved, dark wooden doors have been shut. Naptime. It is summer in Hoi An.”

At Metiseko, poetry is crafted out of organic Indian cotton and silk that is locally produced in Vietnam. The hand-painted prints recall the scent that lifts off of flowers in the aftermath of a monsoon. Tropical fruit meets art-deco elements, hibiscus and peonies float across misty blues and greens, lotus leaves and koi fish swim through a painterly aquatic garden. The fact that Metiseko is also one of the most well-known sustainable clothing brands in Vietnam lends weight to the beauty of the sustainable textiles.

metiseko vietnam

Each of Metiseko’s clothing, accessories and soft furnishings collections is presented like a travel journal that introduces a reimagined view of Vietnam. CỘI-Origins, Metiseko’s 8th collection to date, launched on September 14, 2018. This collection takes us on a voyage to revisit the company’s roots in the ancient city of Hoi An.

Sustainable Clothing Inspired by Hoi An, Vietnam

During the collection’s launch party, a film by French filmmakers Robin and Cako, plays as models weave between the crowd. The film, a dreamy day between four friends as they experience moments with family and the intimacy of friendship, evokes the concept behind the collection.

metiseko vietnam

“It’s about spending time together”, Metiseko co-owner and Artistic Director Florence Mussou said. “Taking a break, enjoying tranquillity and reconnecting, coming back to where Metiseko started . . . to Hoi An, which is still a source of inspiration.”

Eight years ago the brand was created by Mussou and co-owner/General Director Erwan Perzo in Hoi An. Mussou brought her experience in textile design to the company, while Perzo’s passion for sustainability inspired Metiseko’s commitment to ethical work conditions and the use of organic cotton and mulberry silk. The brand is both stunning to look at and also stands out as one of the few truly sustainable clothing brands in Vietnam.

Metiseko Fashion: Tropical Gardens and Vietnamese Sunsets

The CỘI-Origins collection includes organic cotton pieces with colours and shapes that were conceived to work for both masculine and feminine styles.

Video source: Metiseko

The colour palette of the collection was created to reflect one day in Hoi An from sunrise to the sunset. The shades, like denim blue, terracotta, custard and aqua, were inspired by different times of day in the ancient Vietnamese coastal city.

Linda Mai Phung, a French-Vietnamese designer, collaborated on the collection. Phung has become known in Vietnam and Europe for her clothing designs as well as her company ethos: respect humanity and the environment while creating great fashion. She has won numerous international awards for ethical-fashion.

Phung’s designs seem simple but there is complexity in the details—a thin band collar and hidden buttons on a man’s button-down shirt and the narrow pleats made to highlight the waist on a women’s skirt are a few examples. Phung’s clothing designs combined with Metiseko’s organic fabrics manage to be contemporary and classic, French and Vietnamese at the same time.

Part of what creates client fidelity at Metiseko is the strong narrative that the company conveys. When you walk into one of the Metiseko stores it is as if you are entering another world. From the lyrical text that scrawls across the lookbooks to the hanging lanterns wrapped in Metiseko’s signature organic fabrics, each detail works together to create a sense of nostalgia for a place you may never have been to but emphatically want to experience.

metiseko vietnam

Each collection invites us to take a trip with Metiseko, to see the country in a different light. The care that is put into each piece, from the brand’s commitment to sustainability to their exquisite designs, stands as a testament to Metiseko’s ongoing love affair with Vietnam.

Where to Shop for Metiseko in Vietnam:

METISEKO HN
71 Hàng Gai, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi

SILK BOUTIQUES
101 Đồng Khởi, P. Bến Nghé, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

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 Trần Ngọc Diện, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City

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

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


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!


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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



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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