Saturday, June 16, 2007

In Search of a Swiss Sale


I used to laugh each week when I saw in the paper or on TV that Kohl’s was having its biggest sale ever. Bigger than what? Last week’s biggest sale ever? Biggest sale after biggest sale and you think the effect on Kohl’s shoppers would wear off but nearly the opposite is true. This is a strange phenomenon in the United States. A store can have “the biggest sale ever” week after week and people buy it. Well, ok, maybe some are skeptical. But their actions prove otherwise as they fight for parking spaces in the Kohl’s parking lot. I should know. I was one of them.

In Switzerland, all the stores have sales all at one time. A little like the United States. Except it’s not 365 days a year. Sales in Switzerland are rare. They happen twice a year. Once in January. Once in July. So for a sales-deprived expat like myself, a Swiss sale is really an event not to be missed.

Unlike in Switzerland, I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought something in the United States that wasn’t on sale. The strategy there seems to be to price things a little too high in order to always have an excuse to keep things on sale.

But in Switzerland, things are priced way too high in order to keep people buying them. A completely foreign idea to an American like myself. So naturally, this pricing strategy plays quite the havoc on a shopper like myself used to buying anything and everything on sale. I find myself scouring stores for sales and the only thing I leave with? Disappointment.

But I’m not the only one here that took awhile to understand the Swiss affinity for high prices. A fellow American from the Midwest started a custom-made shirt company in Zurich. He figured since custom-made shirts are outrageously expensive in Zurich, he would be able to compete by offering reasonable prices instead. But offering great prices actually kept away the Swiss customers. After he added $30 to the price they came in droves.

Wal-Mart, take note. You may take over the world, but you will never conquer Switzerland. Because here, people know: If the price is too low, something must be very wrong. And in some ways, this is something to be learned from the Swiss.

I complain like any other American about paying so much for things here. $5 to drink a glass of water in a restaurant. $12 for two pieces of chicken in the grocery store. $80 for a dress shirt. But then on rare occasions, I actually think, well, it’s only because people are paid well. All people. Farmers. Waitresses. Grocery Store Clerks. A starting wage for what people in the U.S. would deem a minimum wage job here is over US $18 per hour. I wasn’t even getting paid that much per hour in a white-collar job back in the states!

And when one looks at the Big Mac index to compare prices of Big Macs the world over to determine what country is the most expensive in the world, Switzerland always comes out near the top. This year, the price of a Big Mac in the US was $3.22 versus $5.05 in Switzerland. Only Norway and Iceland were more expensive.

And on that note, I must be going. My husband just called to say the sale signs are up in the store across the street two weeks earlier than expected. I must get there before all the other expats. The Swiss most likely will wait until August. When the prices go up.

2 comments:

sunflower said...

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Hira Khan said...

Wonderful Article. You have covered the topic very nicely. Keep sharing such informational and interesting articles.

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