Earlier this month, my Aunt (Di Tu) asked me to go with her to a large electronics store in Saigon called Nguyen Kim, to help her pick out a new CD player. I recommended that she buy a portable media player like an iPod instead since they can store hundreds of CDs; which means not having to swap out discs all the time. Di Tu said that she would still prefer a CD player because she didn’t think she could figure out how to use an iPod at her age.
Nguyen Kim (63-65-67 Tran Hung Dao, District 1, HCMC) is a huge electronics store in the same vein as Best Buy or Circuit City (R.I.P.). They sell all the latest and greatest gadgets. I haven’t been in a store like this since I left the U.S. I was impressed with the size of the store and the large selection of gizmos. They even carried the latest 3D TVs!
I asked one of the salesmen where the CD players were and he pointed to a small display near the center of the 2nd floor. I could tell right away that they didn’t have much to choose from. In fact, there were only 2 models….both were pretty cheap looking. One of the CD players actually looked like a child’s potty training chair. Di Tu was not impressed. I asked her if she was ready to start looking at some MP3 players now….and she relented.
Nguyen Kim carries a bunch of MP3 players but no iPods. Out of all the MP3 players in the store, I thought the “Sony Walkman” MP3 player was the best of the bunch, but my Aunt said that it looked cheap. She liked the look of my iPhone so I told her that we need to find a store that carried iPods. A quick search on Google pointed me to a couple of authorized Apple resellers nearby…..Futureworld (240 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D3) and iCenter (142A Vo Thi Sau, D3).
Our first stop was Futureworld. It is a really small shop that didn’t stand out much….if I didn’t know the address, I would have probably never noticed it. They had all the typical Apple hardware on display, but as we were only interested in the iPods, we went straight to their iPod display. Their selection consisted of the 8 GB Ipod Touch, the 160 Ipod Classic and the Ipod Nano. Initially I thought about buying my Aunt an Ipod Touch since it has so much more functionality than other other two players….but as my Aunt only needed an MP3 player and the iPod Classic and Nano are so much easier to use I told her that it was probably best for her to choose among the other two.
My Aunt really liked the look and feel of the Black iPod Classic so we told the salesgirl that was assisting us to ring one up for us. I knew something was wrong when 10 minutes had passed and our salesperson was nowhere to be found. She came back after a little while and told us that they had run out of the black version and only had the white color in stock. They were nice enough to offer us a free black case if we bought the white iPod, but my Aunt didn’t like the feel of the case and her heart was set on the black iPod…so we thanked the salesgirl for her help and decided to try out iCenter.
The iCenter on Vo Thi Sau is a beautiful store. It’s about 3-4 times bigger than Futureworld and the layout inside is very similar to the Apple Stores in The States. The iPod display was the first thing you see when you enter the store. According to one of the sales clerks, they did have the black 160GB iPod Classic in stock…..the only problem was that the price was about 1,500,000 Dong higher than at Futureworld for the exact same iPod!! The price was 8,399,000 Dong ($445) at iCenter and about 6,800,000 Dong ($360) at Futureworld. Why is there such a huge difference in prices when they are both authorized Apple Resellers? Whatever the case, there was no way we were going to pay such a huge premium for the iPod at iCenter. You can buy a the same iPod Classic from Amazon for $225….and I already thought that the price at Futureworld was a ripoff.
So with a bit of disappointment, my Aunt and I headed home empty handed. I promised Di Tu however that I would search the internet and try to find another place in Saigon that sells iPods. That night, I spent a good hour online scouring for places in Saigon that sold iPods, but the few authorized resellers listed all wanted the same ridiculous price as iCenter. I would have preferred to order it in the U.S. and have it shipped to Vietnam, but there have been a lot of situations in the past in which packages my mom has sent to my Aunt had been opened by the local postal service, so I didn’t want to take the risk of it getting stolen.
I knew there were probably a lot of non-authorized places that sold iPods in Saigon, but I had no idea how to go about finding them. When I told my friend Huyen Anh of my predicament, she got on my computer to do her own search. It took her about 2 minutes to find a place that had the exact iPod we wanted for only 6,399,000 Dong. It turns out that you need to search using Vietnamese terms since most local websites are written in Vietnamese. Duh!! I couldn’t believe I didn’t think of that. I assumed that searching for iPods in Ho Chi Minh city was enough. Apparently it makes a big difference if you add the word “mua” (buy) into the search.
One of the first stores that showed up on Google using the search term “mua iPod” is an electronics store called Thanh Nhan. Huyen Anh said that she had bought stuff from them before and their service and prices were good. Indeed their price on the iPod was by far the lowest of all the places I previous looked at and a quick call to the store confirmed that the black 160GB iPod Classic was in stock.
Early next morning, I headed out to Thanh Nhan (428-428 Bis Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D3) to buy my Aunt’s iPod. I was greeted at the front of the store by a salesgirl who asked me what I was looking for. I asked her where the iPods were and she just gave me a confused look. I excused myself and just started looking for the section of the store that sold MP3 players. It was located just inside the front entrance to the left under a glass counter. There was a friendly looking guy manning that particular area, and when I let him know that I was looking for iPods, he pointed to the display in front of him. Unlike the previous stores I visited that specialized in all things Apple, the iPods at Thanh Nhan were mixed in with with a variety of other portable media players. The store actually had more models of iPods than the Apple Authorized Resellers.
I told the friendly sales guy (Thach) that I wanted the black iPod Classic and asked if they could possibly give me an additional discount…knowing full well that this was unlikely with any Apple products. He went and asked his manager but returned and told me they really couldn’t lower the price more than 20,000 Dong (about $1), which is what I pretty much expected. In addition to the iPod, I also needed some decent portable speakers, and a usb wall charger. Thach spent a lot of time showing me a variety of speakers, filling out the warranty card for the iPod, and then helping me test out everything to make sure it worked before I left the store…all with a smile on his face. I ended up getting Soundmax brand speaker which was only 300,000 Dong ($15), but sounds decent….and a Sony 5Volt USB wall charger that was also 300,000 Dong but didn’t seem to work on the iPod for some reason.
I left the store about 7,000,000 Dong lighter in my pockets, but was satisfied that this was probably close to the lowest price on iPods I would find in Saigon, and I was more than happy with the professional and friendly service at Thanh Nhan. Never did I feel pressured to buy anything I didn’t need. I would highly recommend this store if you are looking for electronics in Saigon…..ask for Thach (ph# 0917 747 277).
Getting good service in Vietnam isn’t something that happens very often so I really notice it when people go out of their way to make a customer feel welcomed. Even in the instances where I have been provided with good service at other places, the employee(s) that provide the service usually seem pretty miserable. It wasn’t until living in Vietnam did I realize the importance of having employees greet and smile to customers to make them feel welcome. I guess I just took it for granted because most businesses in The States really focus on providing good service as a way of obtaining customer loyalty. Hopefully more of the local businesses in Vietnam will realize the benefits of courteous and friendly service and this rare case of good service I experienced at Thanh Nhan is catching.