Why I don’t shop in Bahrain anymore

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It has been a long time since I visited any of the big shopping malls in Bahrain. And today I was reminded once again why I haven’t done so all this time. You see, I happen to travel a lot and get informed on the latest fashion, products and/or prices. I always look for the best quality and price and I value customer service relationships a great deal. I talk with shops’ representatives all around the world and I have gained their trust and respect as they have gained mine.
Unfortunately, except for a couple of businesses, this is not the case with Bahrain. The last few years the products’ selection is minimal and in fashion it happens that all you can find on the shelves is last year’s stock often with a “New Collection” price tag. Few months ago my friend bought a pair of Valentino pumps at 50% off, a 50% off that was actually the original price in any of the big online shops. I was surprised when once I went to Saks to buy a pair of jeans and they only had to show me TWO (yes only TWO!) brand codes. I have quit long time ago shopping clothes for my kids in Bahrain since the day I discovered the US prices were instantly transformed into BD, tripling them compared to the US: Bye Bye Tommy Hilfiger, Juicy Couture, GAP, see you online or when i visit the US.
Other times you may find newly released electronic gadgets are insanely expensive, like when the new iPhone 5s was introduced and the golden colored one cost 150 dinars more than its silver version in a non Apple-approved shop in City Center. Or you may find that the expensive watch (i.e. Cartier) you intend to buy as tax-free (supposedly there is no tax in Bahrain, right?) costs more than in any other decent jewelry shop in Europe where a generous tax is imposed…  And let us not talk about the prices in the supermarket or the trick of “.. oh sorry! the price has changed and the tag is still not updated” if you ever spot the difference.
So what’s going on?
Profiteering to the point of disgust.
Ok. I can understand that the market of Bahrain, being it small, cannot absorb the aftershock of a global financial crisis thus the limited variety in their imports. Businesses are afraid to be exposed and they have right. What I don’t understand is their obsession of profiteering even in such market conditions when their actions can only guarantee further loss in the long run. Let me explain.
This morning I went to i-Machines to look for an original iPad case for my son. My jaw dropped when I saw the price, especially since I had checked before with Apple Store in the US:
Bahrain price: 50 Dinars meaning approx. 133 dollars with today’s rate according to xe.com.
How much does the exact same case cost in Apple store?
US price: 79 Dollars. YES 79 Dollars.
Do the math yourself adding boldly the shipping cost to Bahrain (that’s what they always provide as an excuse for the high prices, they cannot blame “taxes”cause there is supposedly a free-trade agreement between US and Bahrain) and you see there’s still a big price difference. You don’t have to be a genius to figure it out. The same profit margin seems to apply for another couple of items I checked  with the store (mini iPad, earphones etc).
Needless to say I left the store empty handed. Then I thought I might check for a mascara. During my recent trip to Greece I forgot to buy my mascara from the beauty store and didn’t have the time to get it from Athens airport too so I thought I will get it in Bahrain. Ha. Wrong.
I went to Debenhams and asked for my usual Yves Saint Laurent one (Baby Doll). The lady told me it was 21 BD. I wasn’t sure how much I had paid for the exact same mascara in Athens before – certainly much less- but as I needed it now I thought ok, I will get it. So I took it to the cashier where I was asked 22 bd. I told the cashier that the sales lady told me 21 and then I showed her the tag on the mascara packaging clearly stating 21 bd. She told me she was sorry but in her system the price was 22 bd. Once again I left empty handed and my issue was certainly not the 1 bd increase from the sale point to the cashier…
By the way 22 BD = 58,3  USD, 53,48 Euros or 41,17 GBP with again today’s rates from xe.com.
Soon after I came back home I double checked the price of the mascara:  32 Dollars in the US, 25 Euros in Greece, 25 Pounds in the UK.
Honestly I can’t think of a reason why a mascara would cost DOUBLE its price in Bahrain.
What these local businesses don’t get is the fact that consumers in today’s world KNOW and if they don’t know, they certainly have the way to FIND OUT. Almost every consumer has access to the internet today. Big brands with international presence usually apply a universal price with small -if not tiny- fluctuations that reflect any taxes/dues or shipping costs. Anything way above this “universal” price is a rip-off and I certainly don’t want to be passed for a fool. So what can you do?
  1. Be an informed consumer rather than a compulsive one. If you find something you really like in a shop in Bahrain check its price online yourself or have someone else check for you.
  2. Except for items considered “dangerous”, most of your finds in Bahrain can be shipped from online shops abroad straight to your door. In fact there are few shops that offer free express shipping and shops that even deduct the VAT when shipping to Bahrain from Europe. Others include any dues in your total so you don’t have to pay anything for customs’ clearance in Bahrain.
  3. Shipping from US is tax free and there should be no import dues in Bahrain. Unfortunately this does not apply for shipments from Europe. There is a minimum amount set by the customs authorities and when exceeded there are dues based on the cargo type charged to the receiver. (I have tried to find what this minimum is with no success so far, it’s up to the customs’ officer interpretation of the law I guess – sorry for being sarcastic!)
  4. When the online shop doesn’t provide shipping outside of their country you can open an Aramex Shop and Ship account, have your items shipped to your mailbox in the US, UK or any of the big shopping hubs where Aramex provides service and then have your items shipped at a fee to your door. It’s not cheap but it can be proven cheaper than buying your find in Bahrain. Mind you that Aramex recently updated its policy to include the shipping of perfumes in their service. With regards to a mailbox service abroad I personally prefer Borderlinx mainly because of it’s association with DHL who are superfast but also because they offer free repacking of multiple shipments into one to cut-off the shipping cost. Additionally with their concierge service they can buy for you in shops that do not accept foreign credit cards.
  5. If you don’t feel like doing any of these yourself but still want to shop without being ripped off, appoint someone to do them for you. At a small fee a personal shopper can help you with all your needs however small or big and save you time and money. You can email your inquiries: idol@mail.com.
I’m all ears for your stories of shopping horror!
Update1: Please check my comment below as some people seem to have been annoyed by this article.
Update2: In my recent trip to Dubai I have checked the price for the mascara both in Bahrain airport and Sephora Dubai. The price is around 16 BD so Debenhams is more expensive by a whole 6 dinars (aprox. 15 USD/
EUR). Just for one mascara.
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One response to “Why I don’t shop in Bahrain anymore

  1. The article intends to make us a little more aware as consumers. Times are hard and every penny counts. Businesses have to have profit to keep economy flourishing and provide jobs to people but taking advantage of consumer’s ignorance or needs for a quick cash in, doesn’t lead anywhere. In the long run the damage in the businesses’ and country’s economy will eventually be irreversible. Simply because there will be no consumption.
    Although the article has gained a lot of shares and it was a discussion opener to exchange views and experiences as well as ways to alleviate the problem, there are people (maybe 1 or two) who got annoyed by it. First and foremost the Mums in Bahrain Classifieds Facebook Page Administrator who have deleted my posts 4 times in a row, without giving me any reason for this even when I openly asked (twice). I know what conflict of interest is and I can guess that’s their issue with this article. If this is the case then the group should not be considered a mums’ group where views and news are shared, but rather be seen as an advertising business.
    As for the lady who replied to some of the mums’ comments in my last posting attempt to the group and advised us all foreigners that WE (expats) came here so if we don’t like it we better leave this place, let me just say that the same absurd profiteering practices by businesses apply to locals too… By the time I was preparing my answer the post disappeared once again.
    That’s all… Have a good day everyone.

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