by Micah Agustin and Justine Guino
No doubt about it, the Fort Bonifacio area is as swanky as you can get when it comes to high-class events, parties, dining and of course, shopping. Away from the typical traffic-infested Quezon City, this area is seemingly a relief from the hustle and bustle of the horridly busy city life. This is the perfect setting for enjoying some bazaar shopping. Access to this seemingly wonderlandish posh place is easy, with cars and taxis as the primary mode of transportation. From Antipolo, we reached the area after a 40-minute drive, during the early afternoon. Since it was a Sunday, there were only a few crowds outside, and most people were eating lunch – there was a huge array of fast food, fine dining, and international cuisine. Today is a day were the NBC tent, usually a place for parties and alcohol, is transformed into a labyrinth of narrow paths lined with a variety of products. From lace curtains to cheese pesto, you name it, and a stall’s got it for you.
Today, it was our turn. Not to shop, mind you, but to sell. Okay, fine, we’re up for some shopping… but only a little. The main priority was to sell clothes, couture dresses for this case, for Chesca’s Closet. Each dress sold for at least P 2,000, each having a style distinct from the other dresses sold in the said stall. There’s a lot of competition for sure – there were stalls after stalls selling different types of clothing, especially dresses. This was where a key informant was important – because selling high-end products is a delicate matter. Without a key informant, the day’s business profitability risks being jeopardized. We were first-timers, and although we did know about the basics of selling, there were special instructions needed to cater to the owner and customer’s wants and needs. Even a few hours of sales talking and customer relating was enough to lead to some interesting realizations.
What Is It With Women and Shopping?
You know that book “Confessions of a Shopaholic” by Sophie Kinsella? Yes, we’re talking about Rebecca Bloomwood, that shopping-obsessed girl who’s willing to risk her career, friends, and relationships just to satiate that seemingly endless hunger for more stuff to ram into her already overflowing closet. We never did understand how she could live with all that guilt. And yet we know how it feels to be tempted to buy that shiny new much-so-coveted signature handbag —it’s like we, girls, are genetically programmed to enjoy shopping. In fact, we observed that there were more women than men shopping.
“Female customers tend to buy more when their husbands are around,” says our key informant. This may well be attributed to the fact that some men earn more money. It is also an unspoken rule that man should provide for his woman—he pays for every date and anything she would buy in his presence. Society said so. And yes, even if the woman continually shyly denies a man’s offer to pay for her shopping adventures, a man not paying for said things would, much to most guys in a relationship’s dismay, would be viewed as kuripot.
Another thing: women are very meticulous when buying. It is S.O.P for almost every careful shopper to check every nook, cranny, crevice and inch of a product before purchase – no tears, tampers, and defects are allowed! This is actually a good thing; it is a consumer’s right to get the value of their money after all.
Perhaps, the constant need to present an image that reflects wealth is the primary force that drives women into shopping. And this idea of image is often associated with the physical and worldly possessions—that what you wear and what you have defines you. High-end handbags and heels that cost almost a whole month’s salary? No problem, as long as it will make one look classy, posh, luxurious and of course, rich.
You do your business, I do mine.
“Mangyari po lamang na pakiingatan ang inyong mga gamit upang makaiwas sa mandurukot.” The message was clear: take care of yourself, because no one else will. There’s a certain stiffness in the atmosphere that is evident on the way customers interact with the vendors and other customers. Everyone seemed to mind their own business. You won’t hear “suki, bili ka na” or anything remotely close to little chitchats between customers. Interactions are purely limited on a customer-vendor level. It’s as if there’s an invisible barrier between the vendors and their high-class customers.
People are afraid to become too friendly nowadays, as if being more open to the world strips you bare and vulnerable to the world’s cruelty. And who can blame them if there’s news all around about crimes all over the country? It has reached the point wherein some are afraid to let broad daylight shine upon their belongings, thanks to snatchers. It happens, and people know – better safe than sorry after all.
“Ate, wala nang tawad?”
Amidst our quest to find the perfect dress and iPhone case, we realized something: this bazaar was not your typical tiangge. Most products are priced more than a thousand pesos and you won’t find a 20-peso item, though there were also a few shops selling items with prices ranging from 300-500. This was no place for someone who isn’t willing to spend a considerable amount of money. Naturally, the bazaar attracted wealthy customers. With this in mind, one would expect that people wouldn’t mind spending, and yet we noticed that shops that sell cheaper goods appeal to more customers. The shop we temporarily manned, which sells relatively costly clothes, only had a few customers, and most of them friends or relatives of the owner.
Expensive clothes and textile’s sales aren’t as high as food and jewelery. Everyone indulges on food since it is a basic biological need—something that we need to take in to sustain life. Walking around the NBC tent tends to be a little tiring so having small snacks is a part of the whole shopping experience. Jewelries, on the other hand, signifies wealth. The more you wear, the richer you appear, and this fact has been true since time immemorial. High-class products and customers also mean that there is minimal haggling. Besides, if you’re rich, you don’t need small discounts anyway. With a little persuasion from either the stall owner or the English-speaking vendors (here we go again with the stereotype that English makes one seem rich, learned and high class), customers are easily influenced especially since materialistic ideologies govern their lifestyle.
Superheroes in a Fast Fast Fast World…
As technology progresses, we see Einstein’s relativity model come into play: the world is so fast paced! Busy people need to save time, hence the online counterparts for the shops and guess what: a mobile ATM! Convenience is the key here, and business people know how to cater to this need.
In this fast world, exploiting the world’s resources is something way too common and trying to save the world from the clasps of nature depletion is easier said than done. It’s refreshing to see organic and natural products (such as jewelry made from carabao bones and bamboo!) being supported by consumers. Remember kids, although cliché, a little support goes a long way!
The Pot of Gold at The End of The Rainbow (a.k.a The Enlightenment, Brought About by The Help of The Guide Questions)
1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
Just looking at how people spend their (seemingly) hard-earned cash, isn’t enough. By being the ones selling products, we got to witness their reactions, supposedly caused by how we interact with them. If we only sat around the bazaar and observed other people, we wouldn’t be able to clearly hear what they had to say, notice the changes in their voice tones, nor would we be able to fully experience the dynamics between the shoppers and the vendors. We were directly involved: we were able to immerse ourselves in the experience of shopping at a bazaar, which, as students, we do not usually encounter. We were partially involved, if not the causation, for what they say, try and buy.
2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Selling high-end products is a delicate matter. Without a key informant, the day’s business profitability risks being jeopardized. We were first-timers, and although we did know about the basics of selling, there were special instructions needed to cater to the owner and customer’s wants and needs. Business is highly competitive and a key informant way more knowledgeable and experienced than us when it comes to the ins and outs of business would not only help us develop the skills we need to be equipped with for the day; it would also help improve the way we learn and adjust to different situations, which is beneficial for future observations and experiences.
3. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
An interview might miss the natural behavior of people that they themselves aren’t conscious of. People are given the chance to bola or exaggerate or even falsify when answering questionnaires and interviews since they are aware that their actions and words are being observed. Who wouldn’t want to look good in front of others? “Oh, my name’s on it, I need to make a good impression!” is an inner monologue said too many times. Questionnaires tend to be too impersonal – people will just answer specific questions and the chance to pry and dig deeper about the whys and the hows is lost. With the participant observation we have undergone for this event, we were able to witness the exact reactions (and actions) that people have when buying. Sure, it’s easy to survey people about what price range they prefer when buying clothes, but in real life, we were able to see their reactions whenever we try to sell expensive products. It’s easy to answer “sure, I’d buy a dress for P4,000” on a piece of paper but when you are at the actual situation, spontaneity, actual budget, and well-thought about decision making come into playLastly, or learning as participant observers is remarkably more subjective rather than the objective learnings one could have from questionnaires and interviews. As seen in the write-up, we were able to infer and elaborate about a good number of assumptions. This is real life, and we got to see real results.
4. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
Observation heavily relies on assumptions—you assume that the middle-aged guy holding a baby is a father… that the ring on his middle finger means his married… that the girl next to him, wearing scarlet red heels, is indeed a girl. A questionnaire or interview allows the observer to go beyond what he sees. Assumptions are verified and information that aren’t easily implied by observations are acquired. The better part about the former options is the fact that certainty is more plausible : for questionnaires, numerical data can be produced and for interviews, direct answers, whether completely honest or not, are given.
Finally, being a part of the people’s shopping experience was an experience at the other end of the oooh,-I-get-to-shop! spectrum and we’ll admit it, we enjoyed it… a lot. 🙂