Savvy Saturday 11

This past week, I officially began my studies as a Ph.D. student in Marketing at the University of Nebraska. I expected to be overwhelmed and excited. This proved true. I didn’t expect to find a tie-in from The Quest of the Unaligned to my assigned reading in the first week. But that happened as well. In this week’s Savvy Saturday, I’m going to put on my Sociologist Hat and tell you about it.

In an article discussion group in which I was participating – a group that included three born US citizens, a German, two Chinese, and two Indians – the article discussed a bazaar in India, and how salespeople in this bazaar worked together, even as competitors, for the good of the community (Varman and Costa 2009).

According to the article, this only made sense if one considered Tonnies’ theory of Gemeinschaft and Geselleschaft.

At this point in the reading, I perked up and paid closer attention.

What the article ended up describing was fascinating. In America – like in Tonzimmel – it is assumed and thought natural that individuals work for their own benefit, that sellers will want make as much profit as possible, and that competitors in the same market will try to win away each other’s customers.

In rural India, however, this is not the case. Gemeinschaft, not Geselleschaft, governs the actions of bazaar shopkeepers. For instance, if a shopkeeper runs out of a particular good that a customer wants, it is acceptable for him to go to a competitor’s shop – where the competitor is selling exactly the same item – and just take the requested good from the competitor without paying for it, to then sell to his customer. It is expected, though, that he lets his competitors do the same to him.

In addition, all of the owners of the bazaar shops drink tea together after work and discuss their customers, the news, and fair prices for the items that they all sell. All of them agree on a “reasonable” price for their items, and they stick to it, even though bargaining still occurs. If any shopkeepers sell for “too low” according to the rest of the group, they are told to raise their prices so that the others can stay in business. If anyone chooses not to comply with the will of the group, they don’t receive any social acceptance from anyone in the group, including help from anyone else when they need it (such as borrowing of items).

Finally, customers at these bazaars are not pursued by sellers in the way that they are in America. Instead, it is expected that a customer will become attached to one particular seller and always buy from him. On the flip side, if a customer attempts to switch vendors, the new vendor tries to dissuade the customer from buying from him, and encourage the customer to return to his customary shopkeeper.

As a whole, these activities increase the wellbeing of the entire group of merchants, who can keep margins relatively high, who don’t have to work as hard to keep their customers, and who don’t have to have an overstock of all their items in case they run out. It isn’t the most efficient system, and individuals often have to give up their best interests for the good of the group, but it does keep the community running smoothly.

Just like in Cadaeren. Except without the magic.


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