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Learning to talk like an Egyptian

Rebecca Furbank's shopping trip in egypt shows that the hard sell pays off if done with courtesy

I managed to squeeze in a holiday to Egypt just before the main thrust of the buying season and it was a fascinating trip, not only in terms of the amazing sights, but also because of the Egyptian selling culture.

Egyptians go for the hard sell, which can be off-putting, particularly to a typically stand-offish English person. But they excel at engaging their potential customers in conversation. They are not shy to approach, ask your name and - the greatest skill of all - remember it.

Returning to one market the day after my first visit, I was greeted by name as a long-lost friend and was regaled with every fact they had drawn out of me the day before.

Remembering names is such a wonderful skill. There is nothing nicer than walking into a shop or restaurant and being greeted by name - it makes you feel so special and important.

As a retailer, the other thing I found amazing was that nothing had a fixed price. Such a situation is to be expected perhaps in a marketplace or souk, but even in the boutique shops within hotels nothing is priced. Whatever is sold is done so at a price the customer is prepared to pay and the retailer is prepared to sell at.

This kind of sales concept is totally alien to the UK's retail culture, but by the end of a 10-day trip my bartering skills were well honed and I thought very carefully about the value of everything I purchased.

Having now spent three intense weeks buying for next spring, the experience in Egypt has probably made me a more frugal buyer. When on buying trips, I constantly ask myself 'is it worth it'? Linen skirts retailing for £159, shorts at more than £100, plain vest tops for £48 - would my customers be prepared to pay that amount? Is the product different and unusual enough to warrant the higher price? If my shop were to follow the Egyptian selling method, is that item of clothing so delicious that it is worth the price on the ticket?

An anomaly to this situation comes with occasionwear, where customers seem prepared to pay a premium. Of course, the fabrics are usually more expensive, but I'm not convinced that the pricing of occasionwear is based purely on the quality of materials. I would find it difficult to sell a daywear skirt, top and jacket for £900, but as an occasionwear ensemble a £900 price tag would not be an issue.

Even though I sometimes baulk at the price of occasionwear, as an independent retailer it is a big part of my business. I have to make sure that if I'm buying those high-priced garments, they really are worth it.

I'm thrilled that for spring 08 I've managed to find some middle-priced occasionwear that will suit a slightly lower budget - after all, I have the hat, shoes, bag and jewellery to sell to customers as well.

- Rebecca Furbank is a partner in womenswear store Anne Furbank in Buckden, Cambridgeshire.

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