Sunday, August 30, 2009

Shopping around in a credit crunch

A lot of expats don’t shop around as much as they perhaps should, although now it's more important than ever to do so. That’s particularly true in countries where English is not the native language because trying to get comparison prices AND bargain in another tongue is not easy. It’s certainly a big help to a supplier or potential seller if they can pretend they haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about when you ask them why they’re trying to charge you double what they charge everyone else.

Even in English speaking countries it’s not always easy. A response such as “maybe you can get it for that price in England but here in the US of A nobody has been able to buy it at that price since the 1930s” can sort of stop you dead in your negotiating tracks.

However, it’s worth trying. Take a recent example - I had to renew some insurance.

For about 4 years I’d been using the same company. I’d received good service (though I’d made no claims) and the price didn’t seem too bad either. Still, I thought it was about time I looked around and checked online. To my surprise, I found I had several other options to purchase identical insurance at almost 150 euros cheaper per annum.

So I called my local office and asked if they wanted to re-quote. They seemed surprised that I would consider moving insurance for “only 150 euros” given that we had a good relationship. I thought to begin with that they were joking but saw rapidly that they were not. I slightly sadly had to explain to them that one annual phone call to confirm renewal hardly constituted a ‘relationship’. Much as I enjoyed their sparkling wit and repartee in our 2-minute chat each year, I didn’t actually think it was worth 150 euros.

So they changed tack to try and persuade me to stay with them. “Have you considered the benefits of our service and having a local office you can call into?” Once again, I had to say that I’d only been into their office once in several years and even then for only 5 minutes. Over the 4 years that 5 minutes had cost me about 600 euros – not exactly good value for money. Pleased as I was for them that they had a nice office in a nice location, it didn’t benefit me one iota.

After a few more increasingly bizarre attempts to justify their extra 150 euros per annum, they gave up and said they couldn’t match the price offered by the Internet supplier. I admit that I had some sympathy when they said, “we struggle to compete with many of the new online companies”. I almost felt mean and a little nostalgic for the ‘old world’ of the local office – right up until they followed up by saying “…and it’s usually the British that are very vulnerable to this sort of selling tactic….”

Selling tactic? Beating someone else’s price by a considerable amount is now some form of ‘dirty trick’? The British are somehow ‘saps’ for wanting a bargain? My sympathy evaporated. Ah well, “next time” I said. The moral of this tale is? Forget nostalgia – get those fingers tapping and hunt for some bargains!

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