Bangkok (Thailand) - American mobile phone buyers endure pushy sales people, multi-year contracts and high prices, but it’s a completely different story in Thailand and the rest of the civilized world. Here cash is king and I’ve just snagged a nice Samsung E250 phone, case and SIM card for a mere $138. But even more amazing is the time it took - or more accurately didn’t take.
Most Thai shopping malls have an area devoted to mobile phone sales. Filled with dozens of small kiosks staffed by one to two people, these mom and pop stores hardly resemble the huge Verizon or Sprint stores in the USA. Beguiling Thai girls beam smiles at you, but don’t get the wrong idea here - you’re basically a walking ATM machine that’s ready to buy a phone.
I braved the oppressive heat and choking pollution to Bangkok’s massive MBK mall. Here at least 100 phone vendors are jammed together like sardines and that’s a good thing for me. A booth to the left specializes in Nokia phones, while one to the right has all Samsung, oh look there’s some unlocked iPhones ahead and very expensive Nokia N95s behind me.
So what is an English-speaking tourist to do? Which dealer is the best? It’s actually shockingly simple ... I found the shop that had the most Caucasians hanging around.
I pointed at one of the Samsungs, one of many, under the glass counter. "Nihongo?" the sales lady asks. Damn, why do most Thai people assume I’m Japanese?
"I’m American," I said with a smile. She apologized profusely, "Sorry sir."
She told me the phone had a camera, Bluetooth and FM radio. Just what I needed and the price was clearly displayed on the phone, 3990 Thai Baht. I told her I also needed a SIM card and a case.
She smiles, grabs a handful of red square packets embossed with the DTAC Happy logo and asks me to pick one. See in Thailand and most of Asia, customers get to pick their phone numbers by selecting the appropriate SIM card package. To us Americans it’s a crazy concept, but Asians are big into numerology and some numbers are considered lucky while others bring death, pestilence, bad health and athlete’s foot (ok I added the last one).
I picked the top SIM card and the sales lady whipped out a box cutter, cut the plastic wrap from the package and extracted the card. She grabbed a new Samsung box from under the counter, ripped it open and inserted the card in less than 30 seconds. Just to prove that everything worked, she turned it on and pressed a few numbers to show a balance of 15 Thai Baht.
So the total damage was 4289 Baht or approximately $138 for a nice phone, belt holder and SIM card. I didn’t have to sign anything, didn’t have to show my passport or any ID, heck she didn’t even ask my name.
But the best thing of all is that the whole transaction took less than four minutes (yes I timed it). Hell the cell phone companies in the USA could learn a thing or two from the rest of the world.