the real price of ‘cheap’

when i think about it, i’ve been selling things almost all my life. starting from when i was in elementary school, i used to sell name labels/stickers to my classmates, the kind that i ordered by mail with pre-set images & sizes. and then i as i grew older i moved on to selling Avon, Triumph lingerie and eventually Oriflame. these are of course the kinds that i did as a side job thing, but the real kind of ‘hard’ selling happened when i had a small boutique in Jakarta along with my 2 friends.

it was during this time that i learned the real price of ‘cheap’. or to be completely honest, i learned how annoying it is to hear customers bargaining for a cheaper price. i mean, i’m not gonna lie: i also bargain sometimes. but when i knew it firsthand how much work went into our own work (our boutique sold one of a kind clothings, specifically designed by yours truly, the fabrics all chosen by us three co-owners straight from the fabric shops, and all clothes sewn by one single tailor) and someone dared to bargain the prices that we carefully counted so that we got back our work’s expenses & effort, i found it quite insulting. i felt like saying, if you want to bargain, go shop at a market place.

but then i realized something disturbing. why did i feel like saying that, as if a market place is a good place to bargain when usually those markets (at least in Indonesia) are run by people who don’t even have much money. what makes it okay for people, including me, to bargain from an already ‘poor’ person? don’t we appreciate their effort? and instead, most people don’t even blink an eye when they buy overpriced designers clothings. ever heard of anyone bargaining at a Louis Vuitton store? of course not, don’t be ridiculous.

but why? what makes it okay to accept some high price for something that was created with the exact same effort & work, and for other things you just feel the need to bargain until the salesperson finally gave up their original prices and lets you have it for a lot cheaper price?

now let’s imagine how the process goes for almost every thing in this world, excluding fresh produce. somebody, somewhere, had the idea to create something. whether it be a piece of hairclip, a mobile phone, a computer game, or even a logo, after the idea came the work process. this could involve only 1 person or many people, time, effort (sometimes many efforts as there are no guarantees that someone succeeds after only the first try), the final production, and shipping/how to get the thing(s) to the sellers/straight to customers. in some cases, this whole process last hours, but in most cases they could last for months or even years. and all that process are in the end reduced as one specific product, what you actually see & purchase, of which you try to estimate the real value before bargaining and paying. how many of us can honestly say that we think about all the processes as opposed to just the end product before determining how much we are willing to pay for it?

another form of bargaining actually happens without us knowing it. it’s the kind that happens within the work process instead. big companies bargaining sweatshop’s workers’ wages, sometimes even bargaining their lives. and that’s not all. a dear friend told me once that she used to do dozens of creative designs (let’s say clothing designs) per week to then be shown to a big clothing store company who will then decide which one(s) they could ‘buy’. usually out of 12 or 20, there would be only 1 or 2 that was accepted, and the payment for those creative designs were only bearing 2 or 3 digits at the very max. and then those big clothing store companies would mass-produce the designs and sell them for 5-10€ each. she told me this: “so remember, behind every cheap thing you see in stores, there is always someone suffering for it.” either the designer, the tailor, the shoemaker, the seller, or even the ones who prepare the raw materials, ‘cheap’ means ‘suffering’.

i mean, would YOU want to work your a** off and be paid for 2€ a month? no? then why would you bargain at someone else’s cost?

after all this pondering, i can tell you that i very rarely bargain for anything. if i go to a market place, i look for those who sell stuffs for a fixed price, just to avoid bargaining. i feel sorry for paying 3€ for a pair of nice looking earrings, but then again i don’t do it every month or even every year. and i suppose it’s still better for someone out there that gets paid for each sold goods, so as long as i don’t add to the bargaining part, i have to believe that i’m not making things worse.

sometimes, very rarely, i do still bargain. for example when going to Bali, and i knew that when my husband wasn’t with me, the sellers offer me cheaper prices (local prices) and when my husband was there the prices doubled up. well… excuse me for knowing the real price, then. but still, mostly i don’t have the heart to do it. not after realizing all of this.

our work and effort should mean something more than cheap prices. i hope in the future we can all start seeing more of the work & effort that goes to one product instead of just the end product. then maybe bargaining in all shapes will cease to exist. 😉

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4 thoughts on “the real price of ‘cheap’

  1. From the viewpoint you described here, I agree with you. Of course, there are some exceptions when you know the price(s) have been marked up because of special circumstances, like “bule price” and “local price” then I think we still have to practice bargaining.
    And how I know very well the “hurt” from being bargained with for services like design/consulting…… 😦

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