Flexible Pricing in Hong Kong

One of the local Beauty Shop chains, Modern Beauty Salon Holdings, was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange yesterday. After opening it fell 20% before a small recovery to -10%. Evidently the company’s listing information was inaccurate in the area of customer complaints. They said 200+ complaints for the last year and the actual was 300+. They also said that a fair piece of their profit would come from unclaimed pre-sold services. This was interesting to investors because undelivered pre-sold services were the cause of many of the complaints.

In Hong Kong it’s “Caveat Emptor” and there are many examples of how the system works.

Thinking about this reminded me of a story in the South China Morning Post a few years back that exposed the fact that many beauty salons in Hong Kong had two sets of prices, one for local Chinese and one for non-Chinese. I imagine you can guess which was higher. In some salons the different prices were even posted in English and Kanji. The salons involved justified their dual pricing by saying that Gweipos (slang for Caucasian females) were more difficult to take care of.

Most people who have been here for any length of time realize that in many small businesses there are three sets of prices: one for tourists, one for resident expats and one for the local Chinese. Unless you learn to speak and read Chinese, it is difficult to figure out if you are getting the same price as the local Chinese. One strategy, I’ve used is to bring a Chinese friend with me when I’m shopping in the wet markets or small shops. Unfortunately I don’t have immediate access to my friends whenever I want them.

The only other strategy is to bargain as hard as you can and realize that if you could bargain in Cantonese, you’d most likely get a better deal. This tactic is available to both residents and tourists but unfortunately most tourists don’t realize what game is being played.