BUSINESS AND CONSUMER HABITS IN VIETNAM

CONSUMER AND BUSINESS PRACTICES IN VIETNAM

The Vietnamese have been described as having a strong entrepreneur spirit and a strong desire to make money. One Vietnamese painter told the New York Times, "Getting money, more and more, is what people want. They want to have a new life, a new rich life, and quite frankly they don’t care what society says about them.".

The Chinese traditionally controlled many trades and businesses. Their influence waned when the Communists came to power and many were forced out of the country. See Boat People, Chinese.

Vietnamese economic life has traditionally been focused around small shops, markets, stalls and peddling. The government tried to socialize the economy in 1978 and closed thousands of small businesses and replaced them with a state trading network, which was not very efficient or popular. Private enterprise has been allowed to return, starting in the mid 1980s.

There is a large informal, under-the-table, "parallel" economy in Vietnam, where people exchange goods and services for cash and don’t pay taxes. Because the Vietnamese currency quickly loses its value gold is kept for savings and as a hedge against inflation. The wife in a household is often the only one who knows where the gold is hidden. Many Vietnamese have the habit of quickly changing cash into gold and gems instead of putting in a bank.

Many Vietnamese don’t trust banks or are not in the habit of using them. "Americans go to the bank for a loan," a Vietnamese man told Karnow, "Vietnamese go to friends. I ask this guy for a thousand, another for two thousand, soon I have eighteen thousand. We trust each other, so no interest. He know I do the same for him one day."

On how Vietnam work and start businesses, Stanley Karnow wrote in Smithsonian magazine: "Americans make big investment, hire manager, technicians. Vietnamese cannot afford that, but wife and children all work hard. At first I keep old job while wife and friend take care of store; later I quit to run business full time. Until last year we are here seven days a week, sometimes until 2 in the morning. Now we are doing OK, so we take Sunday off."

Vietnam's New Middle Class Hungry for Consumer Goods

AFP reported from Hanoi: "Over a generation, urban Vietnam has emerged from post-war austerity into a fast growing consumer society, a trend set to speed up as WTO membership attracts more foreign companies, analysts say. The government may still be communist but a growing middle class is hungry for everything from Western fashion to beauty products and plasma TVs, say market watchers now rating the emerging economy as a goldmine. [Source: Agence France Presse, January 11, 2007 ***]

"Two thirds of Vietnamese were born after the war with the United States and they want to join the materialist mainstream of their dynamic Asian neighbourhood rather than think about the troubled history their parents lived through. "I'll never forget how we had to queue for any necessity during the (post-war) subsidised period," said retired teacher Tran Thi Hoa, 56, pushing her shopping trolley through Hanoi's new Citimart. "Vegetables, meat, household utensils, everything. Most of them were scarce and of very poor quality. I couldn't imagine what life would be like if Vietnam returned to the situation of 20 years ago." She probably won't have to. ***

"Today Vietnamese incomes are at a level where over 50 percent of the urban population is considered to be middle class, the main target of most of these companies," said Ralf Matthaes, head of market research group TNS Vietnam. Consumer confidence is sky-high, according to a recent Gallup survey of 56 countries that found Vietnam to be the world's most hopeful country, with 94 percent of respondents optimistic about their country's future. "A number of things are very striking, including the rate of change, the rate of acceptance and of an understanding of new goods and services," said Chris Morley, managing director of market research company ACNielsen Vietnam. "The rate of change means that in some product categories, whole normal evolution cycles are skipped. In 1995, there was virtually nil mobile phone ownership and today in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi most families have at least one." Morley said many parents who grew up with food stamps are eager to give their children what they didn't have. "Mothers today may have been malnourished as children," he said. "Families who can afford it, make almost an overadjustment and think a chubby baby is a healthy baby." ***

Matthaes of TNS said Vietnamese are also "more and more likely to buy premium indulgent products" such as aroma-therapy shampoos and personal care products that promise to energize, detox or whiten skin. "Products with an emotional component are crucial to satisfy the rising need for pampering oneself," he said, pointing out that the number of skincare products on sale has almost doubled in three years to 940 in 2006. An ever-faster lifestyle is also reflected in the rise of new consumer goods, with instant coffee and tea bags growing by over 30 percent last year and slowly replacing the traditional drip coffee and slowly brewed tea. But big-ticket sales are also growing in a country where household incomes may be larger than previously thought because many people are thought to under-report what they earn to both the tax man and their own families. In the cities, Matthaes said, eight out of 10 households now have DVD players and other expensive purchases set for mass growth include plasma and flat screen TVs and modern banking services. In a country where uniformity and drabness in fashion and on shop shelves ruled until recently, goods that reflect wealth and status are becoming ever more popular. "People are buying premium brands," Morley said. "It may be a mobile phone or a premium beer, or a credit card that suggests the owner travels internationally. Vietnamese consumers are now punching above their weight." ***

From Homemade to Gucci: Vietnam’s Nouveaux Riches

Associated Press reported from Ho Chi Minh City: "In a country whose peasant army once marched on flip-flops cut from old tires, Gucci beach sandals priced at $365 can come as a shock. But the luxury market is booming in Vietnam, where Ho Chi Minh's communist revolution exalted equality and the common man just a generation ago. As the country begins to embrace private enterprise, its nouveaux riches are snapping up shoes at Gucci, handbags at Louis Vuitton and watches at Cartier, offering proof of how much the country has changed after decades of war. "I sold a $4,000 leather jacket recently," said Do Huong Ly, a stylish young saleswoman at the Roberto Cavalli shop in Hanoi. "Our customers want people to know that they are high-class." Not long ago, displays of wealth were frowned upon in Vietnam. Those tire-sandaled troops who bested the French colonial army and outlasted the Americans embodied frugality and egalitarianism. The revolutionary government snatched up the assets of the wealthy and redistributed them to the poor. [Source: The Associated Press - September 22, 2007 \:/]

"Members of the new generation want to enjoy life and pamper themselves with luxurious things," said Nguyen Thi Cam Van, 39, who has purchased five $1,000 handbags at Louis Vuitton. "If I can afford to buy something nice, it makes me feel proud," said Van, who works at Siemens and also consults for a Vietnamese import company. "It lets you show people your taste and style." One of her friends has 50 Louis Vuitton bags, Van said. "I think five is enough." Some of Vietnam's shopaholics are young people who work for multinational corporations but still live rent-free with their parents. Others work for powerful state-owned companies and many have made fortunes in Vietnam's small but booming private sector. They indulge their urge to splurge at Dolce and Gabbana, Burberry, Escada, Rolex, Clarins, Shiseido and the like. In the two decades since Vietnam began implementing its economic reforms, the nation's poverty rate has been cut in half, and per capita income has doubled in the last five years. Still, most workers in this nation of 84 million people still earn just a dollar or two a day toiling in the farm fields. \:/

"Those working low-wage jobs find the new lust for luxury hard to stomach. "The rich are getting richer, and the rest of us are struggling to make ends meet," said Dao Quang Hung, a Hanoi taxi driver. "The money they spend on a Louis Vuitton bag could buy several cows for a farmer's family and lift them out of poverty." At the new Gucci shop in Ho Chi Minh City, the flip-flops are among the economy items. The black-clad sales staff, looking fresh off a fashion show runway in Milan, offer a pair of golden, spike-heeled shoes for $765. Across the hall at the Milano store, the display last year featured a $54,000 Dolce and Gabbana dress, one of just three in the world, according to marketing director Dang Tu Anh, who represents both stores. The others, Anh said, were worn by film star Nicole Kidman and Victoria Beckham, the former Spice Girl. Milano's best customers, Anh said, think nothing of dropping $5,000 on a handbag and a pair of shoes. "If they can buy something luxurious, it proves they have money," Anh said. "And that's good." \:/

Vietnam's older generation, shaped by the hardships of war, finds itself at odds with younger Vietnamese over the new consumerism. "Now the younger generation in Vietnam is racing for materialistic enjoyment," said Huu Ngoc, a 90-year-old scholar and author. "Individualism is destroying our cultural identity. We may become richer but lose our soul." The war generation wasted nothing and always saved for the future, convinced that catastrophe lurked around every corner. But opinion surveys show that the 60 percent of Vietnamese born after 1975 are very optimistic about the future — and determined to enjoy the here and now. Van, for example, enjoys pampering herself at the salon with massages and manicures. But she lives in fear that her father, a college professor, will learn about her five Louis Vuitton handbags. "I can't tell him I have these," she said. "And I would never tell him how much they cost. He would think that I was completely irresponsible." Van's indulgences are modest compared to those of Vietnam's super elite, who tool around in the ultimate status symbols: a shiny BMW or Mercedes-Benz. And pay cash. "In America, you pay in installments," said Nguyen Hoang Trieu, luxury car dealer in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon. "Here, you pay all at once, in cash. Sometimes people come in here with $400,000 in a suitcase." \:/

Long Waits and Hostile Service at Hanoi Restaurants

Tuoi Tre wrote on anhfighter.blogspot: "As the country moves toward global integration, Hanoi has been taking stock of its hospitality services, yet restaurants and hotels are still plagued by bullies, who shout or swear at their customers. Pho, the most common breakfast food in Hanoi, draws hungry punters to a myriad of establishments, such as Pho Thin, Pho Ly Quoc Su, Pho Bat Dan, and Pho Co. Arriving at Bat Dan in the old quarter on a hot summer’s day, and just finding a place to park our motorbikes was a real problem. Dozens of people were standing in two long queues waiting for their bowl of pho. It was not pleasant standing in the Hanoi summer heat along with the sweating throng. My friend got his chance first. About eight minutes later it was my chance to get my noodles. Then we had to find a seat. The small restaurant didn’t have nearly enough space, and people were sitting on the pavement outside. But even on pavement it seemed that every seat was occupied. Some folks were milling around waiting for someone to finish and leave their seat. After 40 minutes waiting, my friend and I had to take separate seats. If customers come in a group of two or three, it’s likely that they will not be able to sit together at a table unless they wait right through lunch. Nevertheless, when talking to one of my friends who are a food connoisseur, he told me that, there are still many these restaurants in Hanoi, handed down from generation to generation, where the owners are the king’s, not the customers. [Source: Tuoi Tre, http://anhfighter.blogspot.jp, June 28, 2007 |:|]

In these restaurants if customers are not shouted or sworn at, then they are already having a good time. One bun restaurant at Ngo Si Lien Market has the dubious honour as having the foulest mouthed workers. The noodles are mixed with pork, all in all a very tasty dish, and this particular restaurant attracts many customers. However, the owner, a woman in her 50s, and her daughter, are ready to swear or produce long strings of sailor talk for their customers. For instance, a customer asking for more meat or spices would be greeted with "Why didn’t you fxxxxx ask me before?". Patrons urging them to move quickly with service after being made to wait, they will be offered a retort along the liens of "Don’t fxxxxx push me. I don’t have 10 hands." Several weeks ago a customer lost his temper after being offered too many choice words, and dished the owner up several knuckle sandwiches. She was forced to languish in hospital for a few days and think about her shrewish tongue.|:|

"This is not such an isolated incident. In many other kinds places, bia hoi, hairdressers, camera repair shops, you name it and the service is lousy, and the staff ready to give you a piece of their mind if you dare complain. When asked, shop owners usually say that they are the top shop in their sector, and as they have no problem attracting customers, they don’t need to provide good services. Some blame their poor service on the subsidy period, and that they don’t need to change as they are doing well enough. |:|

"People who have a good knowledge of Hanoi often categorise customers who choose this kind of service into three different personality types. They include those folks who actually miss the subsidy period, another type who think that pho or ice cream culture means going to the same place as everyone else, because after all, that place is "number one". Then there are the folks who believe that such service is part of Hanoi’s charm. Many restaurant owners say that they have been shouting and swearing at customers for so long, that the punters actually expect it, and any change in their habits may drive people away. Writer’s always blather on about how Hanoians don’t just go to restaurants to eat, but also to enjoy ‘the special, unique atmosphere of Hanoi dining’. This could be true for some restaurants, where diners are forced to stand in long queues, yet, why are other, more traditional restaurants, La Vong grilled fish for example, doing so well without the shouting and swearing. |:|

"Each restaurant deals in their own specialty and one could forgive the occasional accidental outburst on a baking hot day. Perhaps in their kitchen cooked heads, shouting and swearing are terms of endearment to customers. The simple truth is that in many restaurants in Hanoi, owners and their staff ignore their customers needs. In a restaurant where food for breakfast is served, some customers from the south ordered omelet and bread. After waiting for some time there still seemed to be no food forthcoming, and the hungry customers tried to remind the waiters that their food hadn’t come. One waiter didn’t look up from whatever he was doing but said the food would be another 15 minutes. When the customers called again, the water said "It’s only been 14 minutes". One customer growled "Making an omelette takes two minutes", to which the surly waiter replied "Every customer here has to wait for 15 minutes. It is the restaurant’s regulation," "That’s ridiculous!" The customer said not believing what he heard. "If you don’t like then get lost". |:|

"Another irritating ploy is when customers order just one or two dishes, but waiters bring out too many, or entirely the wrong dish. Waiters will also allow customers to order dishes from the menus even though they don’t make said dishes, and don’t bother to tell the customers, rather just make something else. At one renowned restaurant, which is in a very good location in Hanoi, customers ordered tea after their meal. "We don’t have tea," the waiter replied. But when a big group of foreign tourists walked in, out came the cups of tea. In the book on globalisation in different places written by Thomas L Friedman called "The Lexus and the olive tree", there is a short paragraph about Hanoi. The author wrote that after he had lunch at the Sofitel Metropole he ordered tangerine for dessert. The waiter told him "We don’t have tangerines". At that time it was the right season for tangerines and many were being sold on the streets. The writer went on, "Every morning I have seen tangerines on the tables for breakfast. Are you sure?" "No, we don’t have any," the waiter insisted. When Friedman changed to watermelon, the waiter went to the kitchen. After few minutes he brought out tangerines and said, "We don’t have watermelon, but I found some tangerines." |:|

"To explain this, some people say that Hanoi was wrapped in the darkness of the subsidy period for a long time and the integration has not changed much, as it has done in Saigon. The second reason is that Hanoians simply don’t demand much of themselves or their peers. This reason is further confirmed by the fact that restaurants that have good locations such as near rivers, lakes or town center normally have a bad reputation. As these restaurants are located in good places, they don’t bother to find ways to attract more customers. It is estimated that every day VND20bil (US$125,000) is spent on marketing for goods and services in Hanoi. However, in hospitality, services are still appalling. |:|

Bargaining in Vietnam

Vietnamese often barter and bargain over prices. Bargaining it is done politely as aggression is considered rude. It is as much a social activity and game as it is means of economic exchange. According to Hitchhiking Vietnam, PBS: “Most Westerners believe the key to successful bargaining is to get as close as possible to the true market value of the product before closing the deal. They're wrong. The real purpose of extended negotiations is to convince each party that they have wrung from their opponent the best deal they can possibly get. This allows them to walk away secure in the knowledge that not only have they not been cheated, but if possible have made a killing into the bargain. [Source: Hitchhiking Vietnam, PBS,pbs.org/hitchhikingvietnam ////]

“Assume, for example, a typical American faced with a magnificent embroidery. She offers the Vietnamese equivalent of ten dollars. The locals respond with a demand for fifteen. The Westerner, foolishly assuming that time is money, immediately offers to split the difference - twelve fifty - and assumes the deal is as good as struck. The locals withdraw suspiciously. If she is so willing to raise her bid, they reason, then their initial asking price is obviously too low. They return with a new price of twenty dollars. She is piqued at their irrational behavior and briefly considers backing down to her original offer of ten dollars. But no, she made the offer in good faith and must stand by her word. They haggle for a while, apparently getting no closer to an agreement. The locals are just coming to the conclusion that she will go no higher than twelve-fifty and that they would do well to accept this price. She is getting bored with the lack of progress - time is money - and makes a suicidal move. They originally wanted fifteen dollars, she recalls. So be it. She will pay that much. But that was then and this is now and clearly they misconstrued her upper limits. The price jumps to twenty-five. The two long hours it took to purchase one grubby armband left me limp and wilted, and ready to go back to town." ////

“There's obviously a fundamental miscommunication when Westerners and Vietnamese bargain. Take, for example, a cyclo driver negotiating a fare. He knows the price should be fifty cents. He asks for five dollars... the foreigner is clueless and gives the five dollars, then finds out later that he has been cheated and is furious. The foreigner knows the price should be fifty cents. He says so and pays the correct fare, but he still feels like the driver tried to rip him off. Either he gets angry immediately or he sits a while, expecting the cyclo driver to apologize. When this doesn't happen he gets angry. ////

“The Vietnamese cyclo driver is essentially playing a money game. Sure, he'd like the five dollars. So he asks for it. If he gets it, great - it's like winning the lottery. If he doesn't, no problem. He'll do the trip for fifty cents. If you catch him at the game he'll laugh and give in with a joke or a gesture. He certainly won't apologize - in his mind he hasn't really done anything wrong. He is baffled by the Westerner's angry response. ////

“The Vietnamese have been quick to grasp the value of time as a bargaining tool when dealing with foreigners. They delight in quoting a ridiculously high starting price, then settling back onto their haunches to allow the minutes to wear away their opponent's patience and pry open his wallet. To this end, the vendors have long since perfected the art of dawdling. They pick their teeth with bamboo slivers. They offer their guests endless tea and under important circumstances, home-brewed rice whisky. They maintain an unbroken litany of praise for their wares, their silver tongues gathering crowds of local onlookers. They bemoan their shanty homes and dozen children and longingly finger the unpatched collars of their customer's clothes.” ////

Gender and Economic Roles in Vietnam

Women are very active is small-scale retail and trade and have traditionally controlled the family purse strings. The wife is the family treasurer and keeper of the family gold. The father and the children often help their mother in the kitchen. Often the wife is the business-head of the family and operates any financial endeavor which it undertakes. Such a business may be a small store, a mobile sidewalk cafeteria, etc. She is not normally a pedicab operator or a fisherman at sea, although she is often a fishmonger or peddler.

According to Encyclopedia of Sexuality: "Nearly all the country’s market stalls today are run by women. Though they are more often small merchants, it is interesting that the richest private capitalist in Vietnam today is also a woman. Not only do women form the overwhelming majority of all active merchants in the country, they constitute the majority of the customers as well. As O’Harrow (1995) points out, in spite of the male role of provider, which is implicit in the Confucian paradigm, Vietnamese mothers raise their daughters to understand, if not explicitly, then by example, that they should always have their own money and cannot depend on men. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2.hu-berlin.de/sexology \*/ ]

The most commonly acquired commodity for this kind of female protective investment is jewelry, preferably in unalloyed gold or with recognizable gems. Young girls quietly watch their mother’s elaborate systems of boxes, jars, purses, hidden floor boards, and furtive containers of every kind and dimension, never opened in the father’s presence. They observe and learn. The extraordinary interest Vietnamese women appear to take in jewelry is commonly misunderstood by outsiders as simple vanity. But in fact the precious contents are considered the mother’s property and will stay with her should she leave. \*/

Vietnamese Prefer Cash to Cash-Less Economy

In 2004, AFP reported: “In a country where the average annual salary is a paltry 450 dollars, it's not surprising a majority of Vietnamese do not have a bank account and have never even seen a cash-dispensing machine. Government efforts to encourage a shift away from a cash-based economy to one with a modern banking system have come up against tradition and decades of mistrust about depositing hard-earned wages in someone else's protection. "It is simply our habit of using cash for transactions," said 54-year-old Tran Tien Hung, an employee of a state-owned company in Hanoi. At present, only about 1.1 million of the communist nation's 81 million people have bank accounts, according to the State Bank of Vietnam. "These people are the minority among the vast population of Vietnam," said Nguyen Duc Vinh, director general of the Technological and Commercial Bank of Vietnam. [Source: Tran Minh Ha, Agence France Presse, October 18, 2004 <=>]

“Johan Nyvene, manager of corporate and institutional banking for HSBC in Vietnam, says government efforts to encourage non-cash transactions need to be supported by fundamental infrastructure changes to the banking system. "To begin with, the centralised automated clearing system needs to be established in all provinces and used by all banks in the system comprehensively for all dong and non-dong transactions," he said. "There is also a need for the inter-bank payment system to be operated efficiently with intra-day and overnight overdraft limits to be standardised between banks." <=>

“A recent draft government ordinance that would force Vietnamese companies to use the banking system for transactions of more than 10 million dong or 700 dollars has triggered concern within the business community. Businessmen say the ceiling is too low and that cash transactions are more convenient for themselves and for the recipients. The World Bank, which is helping the government reform the banking system, says the cash economy fuels money laundering, while the government says change is needed to ensure Vietnam's full integration into the world economy. "Cashless transactions are essential to our efforts to become a part of the global economic community, particularly in our bid for WTO entry by the end of 2005," said a State Bank official requesting anonymity. Experts, however, say it will take many more years before the majority of Vietnamese shift their savings from underneath the mattress to the bank vault. <=>

Beginning of ATMs and Debit Cards in Vietnam

In 2004, AFP reported: “In 1998 there were only seven automated teller machines across the country. About 500 ATMs now cater to Vietnam's newly-minted as well as expatriates and tourists. But even in Hanoi, the political capital, many middle-class Vietnamese have never used one, yet alone seen one. "What is an ATM? I have never heard of such a thing," said Nguyen Nhu Vuong, a 47-year-old accountant at a state-owned media agency who each month collects around two billion dong (over 128,000 dollars) in cash from the state treasury to pay the salaries of the company's 500 employees. "It's strange that this machine can give us money," said 74-year-old Vu Thi Chi as she watched a young woman withdraw cash from an ATM in Hanoi. "I don't think it can provide the exact amount of money that you ask for." [Source: Tran Minh Ha, Agence France Presse, October 18, 2004]

In 2005, Tran Hung wrote in Thanh Nien, “Visa Global Corporation, with the number one global payment card, announced today the release of its Visa Debit card in Vietnam. Visa Debit allows its customers to directly connect with their accounts to withdraw cash via ATM machines and settle payments at over 6,000 other locations of the payment services in Vietnam. Visa Debit card can also be used at over 24 million locations worldwide. The Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam, Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam, Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of Vietnam are member financial institutions of Visa. Debit Cards, which physically resemble credit card, and, like a credit card, is used as an alternative to cash when making purchases. However, when purchases are made with a debit card, the funds are withdrawn directly from the purchaser’s checking or savings account at a bank. [Source: Tran Hung, Thanh Nien, November 9, 2005]

Credit Cards in Vietnam

In 2012, Alyssa Tan of Spire Research and Consulting reported: “A recent study by Spire Research and Consulting revealed that Vietnam is beginning to develop into a cashless society. The Vietnam banking and credit card industry is evolving rapidly, raising comparisons with Indonesia’s credit card market expansion over the past 10 years. The findings of a recent study prepared for a banking road show in Vietnam by Spire Research and Consulting show that Vietnam has substantial market potential to expand its banking and credit card sectors. The first Vietnam credit card was issued in the year 1996 as an experimental initiative by Vietcombank. Since then, the growth of international tourism has driven merchant acceptance of credit cards. [Source: Alyssa Tan, Spire Research and Consulting, July 6, 2012]

Based on a 2008 report released by Visa Inc, a leading credit card issuer association, only one percent (88,000) of Vietnamese residents use Visa credit cards out of a total population of 85 million. The Vietnam credit card market is expected to undergo major changes in the next ten years. To capitalize on the infrastructure and to provide quality services to customers, Vietnam credit card issuers have formed four major business alliances: 1) The Vietcombank alliance consisting of 18 members; 2) BankNet (the State Bank of Vietnam assigned Agribank to connect other banks); 3) VNBC (the alliance of EAB, Saigon Commercial and Industrial Bank, MHB and Habubank); 4) The alliance between Sacombank and ANZ.

The challenge facing the credit card market in Vietnam is that consumers prefer payment by cash because credit cards can only be used at shopping centers or high-end shops. Moreover, credit card holders have been advised not to withdraw cash from their card because they will be charged with a high cost. As with all countries, credit card issuers will have to win over both merchants and consumers to grow the market.

Opportunities for credit card growth in Vietnam: the parallels with Indonesia: “Vietnam’s young population and expanding middle income segment is an excellent market for credit cards. Indonesia’s credit card market increased 6 times from slightly over 2 million cards in 1999 to 11.7 million cards in Q2 2009. We strongly believe that Vietnam has huge potential for credit cards. Banks which understand customers well and introduce products that cater to the specific needs of each customer segment will have a good chance of being market leaders,” commented Linh Do, Spire’s Country Manager for Vietnam.

Markets in Vietnam

Traditional markets are part of Vietnamese culture, where people go not only to buy food but also to socialize, exchange information, living experiences and cooking tips. "It’s so easy to go out and pick up things you need in five minutes. Vietnamese normally prepare fresh food every day rather than have them stored in the refrigerator for a week," Trang says. "My mother goes to the market and even though I’m busy with work, I always try to wake up early and get fresh food for my own family before I go to work," she adds. "This takes me only half an hour at the market." [Source: Hoa Ta, Viet Nam News, September 15, 2009 /=\]

Hoa Ta wrote in the Viet Nam News, “Vietnamese have a saying that nhat can thi, nhi can giang (it’s best living near a market, secondly living near a river) where it is easy to get food and easy to travel. Markets are part of the Vietnamese culture, says cultural researcher Vu The Long of the Institute of Archaeology. It’s where one can find everything about lifestyle, culture and customs of people living in that region. /=\

“With other people who like to exchange cooking tips with their housewife friends, going to market is a source of communication and gathering information in their retirement. "It’s boring to stay at home all day cooking and cleaning," says Hoang Cam Tu, a retired teacher. "I enjoy going to the market where I can meet and talk with other housewives and exchange cooking techniques and news around the community. "Things in a supermarket are clean and well arranged. However, everyone seems to be less friendly and things are more expensive," Tu says. /=\

“The markets and street stalls with food and fruit are not only convenient for housewives, they are part of the character of the country, says David Stout, an expat in Hanoi. "Isn’t it the nice thing about Viet Nam? What I love about Viet Nam and other Southeast Asian countries are the markets. Things are fresh and easy to get. It is different from my country where things are all in supermarkets." "People always complaint that street stuff is bad quality but I really enjoy the fruit they sell on the streets. Both the quality and the price are very good," says Keith Halstead, a freelance cameraman. /=\

Types of Markets in Vietnam

Countryside Market: Many communes in rural Vietnam feature countryside markets (cho que). There are two main types of countryside market: the fair and the evening market. Fairs are held periodically. For example, it may be held on days with the numbers three and eight, which would imply fairs on the 3rd, 8th, 13th, 18th, 23rd and 28th days of each lunar month. Major markets attract huge numbers of people. Apart from local products, visitors can find industrial and expensive commodities produced in other localities. Of course, necessities such as fruit, oil, salt and vegetables are always available. [Source: [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Highland Market: Markets in highland areas where ethnic minorities reside are not only places of commerce, but also cultural festivals. People wear their nicest clothes and spend some days at the market. They may play their pan-flutes, dance, sing and meet new friends. Therefore, markets in highland areas are also called Love Markets (Cho Tinh). ~

Floating Markets: There is a very interesting kind of market in the Mekong River Delta. Thousands of boats gather to form a place of economic activity. Trading activities take place all day, but the most exciting time is in the morning when boats arrive loaded up with agricultural products.On a cho noi (floating market) all trade activities take place on boats. The largest cho noi include Phung Hiep, Nga Bay, Phong Dien (in Hau Giang), Cai Rang (in Can Tho) and Cai Be (in Tien Giang). Most of the agricultural productions sold in cho noi are for wholesalers, who then re-sell it to food processing factories or ship it to the north. ~

Ban on Streetside Markets in Ho Chi Minh City

In 2009, Hoa Ta wrote in the Viet Nam News, “The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee recently banned the sale of meat, vegetables and dried food and seafood anywhere except in supermarkets and permanent markets as a way to strengthen food safety and sanitation. Under the new rule, selling meat, fish, shrimp and vegetables are permitted only in supermarkets, permanent markets and modern convenience stores, which must have business registration certificates. [Source: Hoa Ta, Viet Nam News, September 15, 2009 /=\]

“Statistics of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Planning and Investment show there are about 500 licensed stores and supermarkets that meet regulations compared with the thousands of small markets and stores that have traditionally served more than 6.8 million people in the city. So the new rules are bound to meet opposition. "It doesn’t matter where the food is placed. As a customer, I know where I can trust and where I cannot," says customer Le Thi Lien, who is also a bank accountant. /=\

“For people like Lien, who is used to going to the market every morning for 20 years to buy food for her family, the quality of the products is not unsafe, they are fresh and cheap. For other office staff and housewives, the convenience of temporary markets and street food helps them complete their dual obligations. "This (to ban the temporary markets) is unacceptable. We all know how convenient temporary markets are," says Hoang Thanh Trang, an events manager from District 4. "Every few hundred meters, there is a market. There is no need to talk about the benefit it brings to people, especially when we are all very busy. /=\

Vu The Long of the Institute of Archaeology said, “Markets are not only an economic environment, it’s the life of the Vietnamese. Destroy these markets also means destroying our culture. Futhermore, not everybody can go to the supermarket. Where is there a farmer or a worker who has the money to shop at a supermarket?"For many people, supermarkets are new and unfamiliar, something far from their daily lives. "It’s so funny," says Dao Thi Mao, an unemployed resident of Tan Binh District. "Why do I have to go the supermarket when I have everything around here? Supermarkets are for rich and office people. I never went there." /=\

Traditional Markets Vs. Modern Malls

In 2002, Saigon Times Weekly reported: “To residents in Vietnam's metropolises, supermarkets and malls are no longer venues exclusive for the well-to-do. They have become shopping sprees for people with different income. It takes supermarkets and shopping centers in Ho Chi Minh City more than eight years to equate to traditional markets in quantitative terms. According to a press source, by the beginning of this year, Ho Chi Minh City accommodated 100-plus large and small supermarkets and shopping malls. The number of markets-not taking into account those on the sidewalk-was almost the same. Press sources differ, however. Saigon Tiep thi, the Saigon Times Group's consumer weekly, reported that by early October this year, Ho Chi Minh City was home to 61 supermarkets and malls. The difference lies with, perhaps, the scale of these establishments. But be they big or small, supermarkets and shopping centers have taken a quantum leap, both quantitatively and qualitatively. [Source: Saigon Times Weekly, December 14, 2002 <<< ]

“In October 1993, MiniMart, the first example of supermarkets emerged in Ho Chi Minh City, was launched. As the name may suggest, it was only a small minimart, selling several hundreds of commodities. Some supermarkets and shopping malls in Ho Chi Minh City nowadays are located on tens of thousands of square meters where a multitude of different commodities are available. Say, Metro Cash & Carry's newest wholesale center in An Phu - An Khanh in District 2 has a total area of 35,000 square meters. <<<

“The conveniences and comforts at supermarkets and shopping centers are much better than the first ones in town. Several years ago, there were occasionally complaints about the discomforts some shoppers felt at supermarkets. For instance, when they were crowded with people, the air-conditioning systems became overloaded making shoppers sweat. Times have changed now. Some new supermarkets and shopping centers in Ho Chi Minh City, for example the fresh-inaugurated Saigontourist Department Store, are on the same footing with counterparts in the region. "Saigontourist Department Store is comparable to those of our neighboring countries," says General Director Do Van Hoang of Saigontourist Holding Company. It is not by chance that supermarkets and malls are partly replacing traditional markets. The answers to the question of why Vietnamese people go to supermarkets are what supermarket managers want to know. <<<

"We can find a huge number of goods in the same place at the same time," says a shopper. In fact, in big supermarkets such as Cora or Maximark Cong Hoa, shoppers have a wide choice from a huge number of items. Although prices at supermarkets are somewhat more expensive than those offered at traditional markets, many prefer going to the latter as it is more convenient to shop there. "The goods sold at supermarkets have clear origin and often have guaranteed quality," a young lady says. She used to buy things at markets, but now she has shifted to shopping at supermarkets. "We don't have to bargain there," says the young lady. "At traditional markets, I have to bargain and I was scolded by sellers many times because I tried to make a low bargain. To tell the truth, sometimes I didn't know what the real prices were. But I didn't want to be overcharged either. At supermarkets I can be assured that I'm offered reasonable prices in most of the cases." <<<

"My family choose to shop at this supermarket because while my husband and I select goods, my kids can play at the children's section or accompany us," says the mother of a four-member family who shops at Co-opmart Dinh Tien Hoang. Plenty of Vietnamese families have considered shopping at supermarkets a way to entertain themselves. "Sometimes I just go window-shopping at luxurious malls such as Diamond Plaza," says a young woman. "Many times I don't buy anything, but I go there anyway because I like the place, the decoration and the ambience." According to many shoppers, sale promotions are also an attraction prompting them to shop at supermarkets and malls. Some local newspapers have called sale promotions at supermarkets a "boom." <<<

“At weekends and holidays, revenues of supermarkets and malls often soar. On the latest National Day September 2, their sales rose by 30-40 percent compared with last year. Although supermarkets and shopping centers in Hanoi appeared later than their peers in Ho Chi Minh City, many Hanoians have formed the habit of shopping in supermarkets and malls. The reasons for them to make their buys there are similar to those of Saigonese shoppers. "Diverse products, acceptable prices, conveniences and attractive sale promotions are the reasons for us to choose supermarkets," says a Hanoian shopper. <<<

Unregulated Pawn Shops Cause Concern

Viet Nam News reported: “ Pawn shops have been sprouting up to meet the demands of those seeking short-term loans. However, these places are also becoming the playground for violations of social security, according to the Police of Hanoi. Pham Tung Van, head of Consultative Team from the Criminal Police Department of Hanoi's Police, said pawnbrokers receive valuable items like laptops, motor vehicles, cellphones, bachelor degrees, cameras, jewellery and even stolen items. Most people usually bring their possessions to pawn shops to get small, short-term loans in exchange, sometimes to play the illegal lottery, Van added. [Source: Viet Nam News, March 22, 2012 /|\]

Le Ngoc Thang asked her sister to give to him VND14 million (around US$670) to get his motorbike Nouvo back from the pawn shop. He pawned his item in a Dang Dung Street pawnshop for a month. His sister gave the shop owner VND14 million and had to pay an additional VND2.1 million($100) for interest at the rate of VND5,000($0.24) per day for every VND1 million ($48). "If she didn't help me, my motorbike could have been put for sale," Thang said. /|\

There are many streets known as "pawn-shop street" like Dang Dung, Lang, De La Thanh, Luong The Vinh, Cau Giay, Xuan Thuy and Mai Dich and they are always busy, according to the Criminal Police Department of Hanoi. Ngo Van Ky, a customer of pawn shops in Me Linh District, said that the interest rates at pawn shops are 10 to 20 times higher than at commercial banks, usually about VND4,000 to VND5,000 per day ($0.2 -$0.24) for every VND1 million. Ky shared that such loan rates were the cause of his worry. In the end, he could not get his items back because the owner said that he had violated the payment schedule. According to Phu Hung, owner of a pawn shop in Cau Giay Street, each customer gets a short-term loan of about 50 to 75 percent of the item's value. They can get their items back any time before the deadline by repaying the loan plus the interest. They can also pay the interest and keep the item at the pawn shop. "We really help people who need short-term money," Hung added. /|\

Van said that pawning activities have joined hands with various kinds of crime such as robbery, gambling as well as illegal debt recovery. Tran Minh Hai, deputy head of Truc Bach Ward's Police, said that inspection teams often check pawn shops periodically; however, it is very difficult to control all activities in the service. Lawyer Pham Thanh Binh from Hong Ha Law Company said that the Government has been delaying in issuing documents to control pawn shop activities and loose regulation have negatively impacted society. "These actions are similar to black-credit activities; it is a form of usury," Binh said. /|\

"Obviously, we cannot control how high the lending rate of a pawn shop is. So the loose management of this service has led to the loss of huge amounts of personal income tax", he added. "On the other hand, a business registration certificate of pawn service is quite easily to acquire. Under current regulations, individuals or enterprises having enough conditions to open pawnshops go to the district's economic department or Department of Planning and Investment, to request a business license and certificate of eligibility for social security," Binh explained. /|\

Binh said that many pawn shops had fake business licenses or operated many shops at the same time to profit. The sanctioned levels of trading a customer's property without legal papers or contract, sometimes property of unknown-origin, are only from VND2 million to VND15 million ($95-$710), according to Government Decree 73 issued in 2010. "These penalties are nothing compared to the profits earned from pawn services. It is not strict enough to admonish pawnbrokers", Binh complained. /|\

To manage the business more tightly, the authorities need to have a clear processes and strict business licensing conditions, according to Hai. Besides, the banking system should expand its services, such as offering legal mortgage so that the social safety would be reinforced and the negative effects of pawn services would be limited, Binh suggested. A pawn shop open late into the night on Dang Dung Street in Hanoi's Hoan Kiem District. Increasing numbers of pawn shops have been opening to satisfy demand for short-term loans. /|\

Living with Inflation in Vietnam

Grant McCool of Reuters wrote: “Every time Vietnamese factory worker Nguyen Thi Ha goes to the supermarket, she finds that prices on the shelves have climbed, evidence of a country facing its highest inflation rate in more than a decade. Vietnamese are suffering from "sticker shock" as inflation hit 12.6 percent in December, driven by higher prices of food, fuel and construction material. The rise was the highest in a decade and well above the trend in other emerging markets in Asia. [Source: Grant McCool, Reuters, January 27, 2008 >><<]

"Prices go up all the time but wages only go up once a year," Ha, 32, who earns less than $200 a month, remarked while standing at the meat counter of a supermarket where pork ribs were being sold for 70,000 dong ($4.35) per kg. They cost 50,000 dong ($3.10) per kg two months ago, an increase of 40 percent. >><<

“Economists said double-digit inflation is a cause for concern because it means the poor would eat less food in a country that has an annual per capita income of only $835 but prides itself on reducing poverty in the past decade. Factory workers and the elderly, the people most affected by the steep rise in prices, would welcome some relief as their purchasing power for essential items has been severely reduced.Many workers in the 14 industrial parks in and around Ho Chi Minh City earn only about 1.5 million dong ($93) a month. >><<

Uuang My Dung, 50, runs a sidewalk restaurant in an area of the city where laborers rent rooms and toil in textile and shoe factories or as porters in Saigon Port. Dung serves basic meals of rice, pork and vegetables. She charges 13,000 dong (80 U.S. cents), compared with 8,000 dong (50 cents) last year. On her narrow street, faded store awnings are covered in dust and grime. Cars, motorbikes, bicycles and market handcarts compete for space, typical of the city where population estimates vary widely between 6 million and 11 million people.On average, Dung says she ekes out about 160,000 dong ($10) a day, bearing the increasing cost of rice at the street market. It costs her 7,000 dong (44 U.S. cents) per kg compared with 5,000 dong (31 U.S. cents) per kg last year. "People are trying to save money but it's almost impossible to avoid.” >><<

Vietnamese Seek Gold as a Hedge Against Inflation and Currency

Margie Mason of Associated Press wrote: Do Hai Ninh has been stashing away her meager earnings until finally saving enough to make a deposit. But the high school teacher isn't about to put her money into a Vietnamese bank with the value of the local currency steadily dropping. She's investing in a safer bet: gold. Jewelry shops and black-market money changers have overflowed with customers, desperate to unload their Vietnamese dong for greenbacks or gold nuggets as the fast-growing Southeast Asian nation is buffeted by double-digit inflation and the near collapse of one of its largest state-owned companies. [Source: Margie Mason, Associated Press, December 21, 2010 :::]

“Rapid growth in lending, meanwhile, has not been matched by increases in deposits, a phenomenon partly explained by suspicion of banks after previous bouts of hyper inflation destroyed savings. It all adds up to a financial system creaking under immense pressures that are reflected in the lack of faith Vietnamese have in their country's currency. "People's trust in the local currency, the dong, has been eroded seriously," said economist Nguyen Quang A, former president of the Institute of Development Studies, the country's first independent think tank, which disbanded in protest last year following a government decree restricting the right to conduct and publish research. :::

"One of the most important tasks of the government, specifically, the State Bank is to protect the power of the local currency," he said. "The policy aiming for high growth with inefficient investment in the economy, particularly investment in state-owned enterprises and in the government, has led to this situation." The local currency plunged to an all-time low earlier this month on the black market, hitting 21,560 dong to one US dollar, according to a state-run telephone information service. It was trading at 21,140 on Tuesday, it said. The official rate was 19,500. The State Bank has devalued the official dong rate three times since Nov. 2009, reducing its value about 10 percent against the dollar over that time, but it is still widely regarded as overvalued. :::

Leo Lewis wrote in the Times of London, “Near the counter of the Phu Quy gold store in central Hanoi, a man hovers nervously with his wife, his six-year-old daughter and a 10-inch thick wad of 100,000 dong (£3.72) banknotes. Above the sales desk, a flashing Bloomberg screen displays complex price charts, but Mr Tran is entranced by the simple, constantly changing "we sell" display controlled by the shop's own independent trading system: the price of gold flickers down to the equivalent of $1,037 per tael (1.31oz) and the brick of money is hastily shoved over the counter. All around the store, the action is frenetic and will be all day because, despite the imposing statues of Ho Chi Minh and Lenin a few streets away, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam lives and breathes commodity markets. [Source: Leo Lewis, Times of London, October 27, 2008 \\\\]

“The vibrant physical gold market reflects the deep distrust most Vietnamese have for their own currency and its fluctuations. They remember times when "one day, a wallet of dong would buy a cow, the next day 100g of beef" and put their faith in the more reliable precious metal. Gold's surge to $960 per ounce this year was a magical windfall for many Vietnamese households: the new fear is that even gold may now disappoint in the worldwide meltdown. \\\\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

Page Top

© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.