I have been shopping at PriceSmart for about two years and I noticed a trend that I am sure many have experienced. I was at the line at PriceSmart ready to check-out when I felt the touch. It wasn’t the touch of the holy spirit or an angel nudging me to come home. It was a genuine touch that demanded immediate attention. I quickly turned to provide aid and a young lady with artificially fair skin, which highlighted the works of artists of varying skill levels made her appeal. I was initially distracted by her hair which sat uncomfortably on her head, ready to make a quick move with the slightest nudge. Her attire demonstrated how comfortable she was in the environment which, though crowdy, were all family.
“Cash out dis fi mi nuh? An mi gi yuh di money”
“So if you have the money why yuh nuh cash it out yuhself?”
Provides unreasonable explanation.
This was my first encounter and I thought it was some kind of scam so I provided no assistance. After several encounters of a similar nature, I figured it out. They do not have a membership with PriceSmart. They, therefore, prey on the ‘vulnerable’ and have them make purchases on their behalf. I assume they keep their word regarding repayments. I wouldn’t know. I started dressing down when going to PriceSmart to make myself less of a target and it works. These individuals I refer to are members of neighbouring inner-city communities who may not have the financial capabilities to renew membership with PriceSmart yearly. They, therefore, depend on members to pay for items so they can receive the products at the discounted prices without the up-front membership payment.
How PriceSmart Works
This is the only store I know in Jamaica that requires you to pay to shop. While there is a requirement that customers pay a membership fee of about $5,000 (if doing it alone), I have never seen PriceSmart empty. Even on a Sunday morning when all the Non-Seventh-Day Adventist Christians should be at church, the store is packed! The benefit to customers is that the items, which are mostly sold in bulk, are cheaper per unit than traditional supermarkets. In fact, if you buy a lot of items you can have $5,000 in savings from that one purchase, which covers the membership cost. Selling in bulk allows PriceSmart to have a larger margin on items sold to customers but the membership fee is their direct and immediate profit.
Are You Really Saving?
Short answer, No. I usually say I’m only going for a few items and head home with a $30,000 bill. They use several strategies to ensure you spend more.
- Bulk Supply – When you buy in bulk you save only if you need or use all the items purchased. If you buy a large sack of potatoes and you only eat potatoes once per week, half of the sack will spoil and you would have wasted money.
- Limited supply – there is no guarantee that what you see this month will be there next month. So when you see an item you will buy for fear of missing out.
- Store arrangement – All the sweet stuff are at the front near the check out line to trigger impulse purchases.
Here’s How You Can Save
- Purchase membership with a partner (both will get a membership card)
- Make a shopping list and stick to it.
- Make purchases as a group.
Solution For Inner-Cities
PriceSmart should allow members of neighbouring inner-city communities to purchase a limited number of items without a membership. These individuals who are making purchases for resale can easily be supported and is one-way PriceSmart can ‘give back’ to the community. The membership fee for a low-income household is a major hindrance. In any case, something needs to be done about the harassment members receive.