Caveat Emptor, or Buyer Beware.
No matter how you say it, most of us realize that it’s up to us to be aware of what we buy, and to take responsibility for our own purchasing decisions. Thankfully, it’s also up to the other party to be fair, as there are often consequences in one form or another if they aren’t.
However, there are times when we deal with unscrupulous sellers who are out to rip us off. It’s often evident when certain situations are shady. In those cases, we have to use our heads and know how to use our better judgment to avoid getting greedy and getting something for nothing. This 21st edition of Squirreling Gone Wild shares a story that illustrates how if something seems too good to be true and risky as well – it probably is
Ironically, the story comes from the same trip to China that I had described in an article on the best customer service I ever had. In that piece, I recalled an example of amazing customer service near the Great Wall about 20 years ago.
In this case, the episode occurred on the end of the same trip, after we left China and exited through Hong Kong as our gateway back to the West. After spending weeks in China, as American exchange students, we were ready for the craziness and freedoms of Hong Kong. You see, Hong Kong at the time was known to be a place where money talked. If you were 17 and wanted to drink, did you have a problem? Nope. Just go to a local bar or even convenient store and buy whatever you want. I visited my first bar ever while there – an Australian pub. Believe me, it was fun. A lot of fun. We had a little bit of money to spend, and that’s all anyone cared about. “Let’s make a deal” was the tone.
This deal-making attitude also took hold at many stores in Hong Kong. We were told ahead of time that people can negotiate for electronics, clothes, and other goods – there were no “true” fixed prices at many places. This was particularly true at smaller stores.
I had a few small deals, and that was it. I bought a jar of Tiger Balm (good stuff, by the way), bringing the guy down from $3 to $1. Small potatoes, really. Truth be told, I didn’t have much money and was lucky to be on the trip anyway.
Some of the people in our group were particularly excited about electronics stores. The notion was there that you could get electronics at much cheaper prices than back at home, if you smartly negotiated. Keep in mind this was 20 years ago and Hong Kong was a different place then. Saying all this, we were warned that we should be careful.
Of course, being high school kids, not everyone was mature or street smart. Some people on this exchange trip had never been out of the U.S, and had probably been sheltered. To some degree that included me.
One guy in the group kept talking about how he wanted to buy a top of the line camera. The way the story went from those that were with him, they visited an area that had a large cluster of electronics stores, crowded next to each other with neon everywhere. So the kid walked in, found a camera he liked, and started to negotiate.
Apparently, he really aggressively tried to drive a hard bargain with the store owners. Eventually, the guy he talked to said he had to talk it over with this boss. Then, the salesman and his boss switched languages from English and went back and forth with each other in Chinese. Naturally, the American kid had no idea what they were saying.
Then, the boss turned to the kid and said “Yes” in English, indicating that they had a deal. The guy then once again spoke in Chinese to his employee, sending him to the back room to get a camera. When the guy returned, he brought a camera box, and the boss told the American kid that it was in its original box so it can’t be returned – especially since such a great price was being given.
The kid thought he was buying a camera at half the price of what it would cost at home, so he didn’t care. He quickly purchased the camera and left.
Well, sure enough, the kid opened the camera box later in the evening back at the hotel. What did he find?
Yep, they sold him a box of rocks. What a deal.
Naturally, many of the other people in the group were getting great laughs at this kid’s expense. I remember feeling bad for him, but laughing about it with others when he wasn’t there. It’s still funny to me.
WHAT IN THE WORLD WAS HE THINKING?!
What was funny is that he tried to go back to the store the next day, and the people tried to act like they only spoke Chinese and didn’t understand English. From what someone who was with him said, they were openly laughing at him and joking with each other in Chinese.
The American kid was ripped off and had no recourse. At all.
To me, this is another example of anti-Squirreling Gone Wild, actually – where the tables are turned and the business tries to save money on the customer, in a sneaky way. As I recalled this story, it reminds me in a way of my own experiences with The Crafty Waitress, from Squirreling Gone Wild #16.
It’s not just consumers that are looking to pinch pennies, its some businesses too. Yet they’re willing to pinch dollars out of you instead.
If it seems too good to be true, and appears to be overly risky, it probably is. Be sure to keep the something for nothing urges in perspective and under control, or someone somewhere will be there to exploit them.
How about you?
Have you ever been completely ripped off, or have you heard of anybody you know being totally scammed by a business?
Do you have any tips to avoid such situations?