Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Great Indian Bargain

I had four international relocations between India and US in a span of some seven years. Tasks in almost all these relocations had a line item - "Sell off stuff that you can't carry". This line item gave me a lot of experience and insight into the mind of the bargaining customers.

It was the last big relocation that gave all the interesting experiences. Selling my household items in the US was a bigger task simply because there were more items to sell. I went through the normal grind of posting ads in Indian grocery stores and Microsoft's intranet through a friend.

The probable buyers came from the usual ethnicities - Indian, American and Chinese. I would consider the Americans as the most reasonable customers. When the price I quoted didn't meet their offer, they just moved on. They probably had more important things to do than extract a bargain. Successful transactions were completed in less than 5 minutes. One executive from Microsoft even gifted me couple of software titles as he was impressed with my selling price. In all the transactions, the cost of time spent on the bargain should be more than the actual savings they would get. The American customers just gave a higher priority to their time.

The experience with some of the Indian and Chinese was a bit different. The difference was, they had all the time to do the bargain, while I had less time to sell them off. Even after settling for a price, one guy paid $500 less for my car and I had to ask again to get the full amount. It was like, he could save $500 if I was too polite to ask for it. By that time, I had enough experience that I realized there was no need to be polite. Sale of furnitures and some toys went through worse experience. The buyes always asked for more and wanted to pay less. That was the time when the 'Yeh Dil Maange More' was the popular slogan. For some items, I didn't want to go through the sale just because I didn't want to waste my time and decided to donate to charities.

Moral of the story was: If you want a good bargain, be prepared to spend more time. In other words, time is money.

A few years later, I find myself getting into a situation where I have to apply this learning. When I quit a job, the employer decided to hold back my last month's salary. Let me not get into the details of it on why I am on the fair side of the situation. This blog is not about that. This is about how we treat time w.r.t money.

For me, the amount is high enough that the time and effort I spend are worth it. So, I would hire a lawyer, pay him a percentage of the settlement I would get and try everything to get my money. In the process, to be cost effective, I will try to maximize the settlement. For example, I would try to recover the money I spend for the legal process, charge interest for the delayed payment etc.

What surprises me is my ex-employer's attitude towards time and money. The money they owe is indisputable salary and not a negotiable commission or some such thing. So, there is no monetary gain out of the issue. Even before the situation gets into the legal process, all the key people had spent a lot of time on the issue without making any progress towards a resolution. If we were to consider the salaries of these people, the cost of the time lost in the arguments and discussions is plain intangible loss. The time would have been better spend on what is good for the business.

I came across another set of top guys, each one's net worth was more than a few million dollars. These guys spent an hour of their time discussing whether to buy a phone in India for $3 more or to buy it in the US at a cheaper price. It was just one piece of phone and the difference was just $3, still they chose to spend an hour's time discussing that.

It surprises me that we Indians give so little importance to time and such a high importance to money.

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