An Immersion in Thai Consumer Behavior

On my final day in Southeast Asia, I was lucky enough to have a flight leaving at 11pm, allowing me a whole day in Bangkok to literally get lost. With a hotel business card (to give to a taxi or tuk-tuk driver to get me back) and a map in hand, I ventured out alone to explore the city and find the last few items I still needed to buy.

MBK Shopping Center

I rode in a tuk-tuk to the MBK center, a large shopping mall only similar to those in the US. when comparing size. Eight floors are packed with hundreds of stores, most of which are vastly different from anything you’d see in the states. I’m pretty sure there was a floor dedicated only to shoes and purses.

Outside each McDonalds in Thailand you'll find Ronald giving a wai greeting

While having lunch at a little Japanese restaurant I noticed my Pepsi can was in English and wondered why Pepsi and Coca-Cola chose different language/packaging strategies…did they discover different preferences among their Thai target market? Random, I know.

While browsing through an accessory store I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman, Simon, from Perth. Having regularly traveled to and done business in Bangkok, he shared with me some interesting thoughts about the Thais. As strange (and creepy) as this may sound, I remember most him mentioning “Asian women are obsessed with bras”. I had noticed that there seemed to be an overabundance of places to buy ladies underwear, especially at the street markets, but didn’t think too much of it until he mentioned it. I’ve been wondering ever since why Victoria’s Secret doesn’t have a presence in Southeast Asia…especially since many of their items are manufactured in Vietnam. HEY VICKY’S – OPPORTUNITY!!!

Simon and I must have talked for 20 minutes about this city, our respective country’s economic situation, and what’s currently happening in American politics. I always find it interesting how knowledgeable people on the other side of the world are about the U.S. political landscape. Sadly, I’d bet half of Americans couldn’t point Perth out on a globe, let alone discuss whats happening in, say, the Eurozone.

By his suggestion, I left the MBK market and walked further down the road to the ritzy Siam Paragon, the largest, and most impressive shopping center in all of Southeast Asia (think of all of Michigan Avenue shops rolled into a single building complex). This is where all the top-notch designer boutiques like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Versace are found. Seeing this place was like seeing Vietnam’s future 20 years down the road – Dr. Shultz had taken us to see a brand new shopping center in Ho Chi Minh City that was such a big deal to the locals that there was a wedding taking place there.

Outdoor exercise bikes and a Coke bottle tree

I have to admit, I really hate shopping, so much so that I order most everything I wear online. Despite this, wandering around and seeing all the Thai advertisements and Asian shoppers was just, well, it was cool! Even the little things which are totally common in Thailand I found amazing, like the elaborate spirit house outside the Siam Center.

Spirit house or san phra phum

These spirit houses are basically shrines intended to provide a shelter for spirits which could cause problems for the business if not appeased. As seen in the picture of the Siam Paragon’s spirit house, offerings of flowers and/or incense are left to propitiate the spirits.

Even the license plates deserve notice

After leaving the “designer mall”, I wandered the sidewalk shops, snacked on street food, and had one last 2 hour Thai massage. Bangkok is an interesting and exotic place to wander, I’m just glad I had a whole day to myself to do so!

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