Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Purchasing Differences

Even the common practice of shopping is different in Mongolia. For one, this is an entirely cash based society. Most people have an ATM card, but that is only used to get cash from the bank. There are 2 ATMs for our bank (Khan Bank) in our town, but often one or both of the ATMs are not working or out of cash. Most stores, especially in the countryside, do not take credit cards. However, many of the local stores do give store credit. For example, if I need to purchase food but don’t have cash, the store owner will log the purchases in a notebook and I can pay for them later. I don’t know if there is any interest or what the repayment terms are. Often, the ATM gives out 20,000T bills (about $17). Many of the stores won’t accept 20,000 bills unless your purchases are large. So, it means that we have to “queue up” many small items so that we can break a 20,000T bill. For example, we may wait to buy eggs, milk, bread, peppers, onions, and hyam (sausage for Bear) at once so that we can use a 20,000T.

More interesting are the local purchasing habits. In America, we are used to bulk purchases, the 50 roll toilet paper pack from Costco or 5lbs of cheese from Walmart. Well, here, the exact opposite is done. People typically only buy what they need for that day and will stop by the store everyday. For example, people often buy individual cigarettes or individual feminine products (1 days’ worth). The buyer will tell the clerk what they want and the clerk will remove the number of desired items from open packages from behind the counter. The most extreme case of individual purchasing that I have witnessed is individual pieces of gum. I don't think there is anything that can't be broken down for purchase. Also, if a store or restaurant doesn't have exact change, they will supplement the difference with pieces of gum. It is not uncommon to get a few pieces of gum with your change at a restaurant.

Similarly, purchases are not planned ahead more than 1 day, so there are mad-rushes for items the day before a holiday or major event. For example, yesterday was Women's day and most stores were closed, so there was a rush on alcohol/vodka/cake/flowers the night before. I don't know the rationale for daily purchasing, but it would be an interesting topic for an anthropologist.

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