Higglers' paradise, Jamaican ICIs take advantage of low prices in China
Published: Sunday | December 13, 2009
China is now the main market for Jamaican informal commercial importers. Some make the the cross-continental journey many times per year to buy goods ranging from furniture to clothing and appliances. – File
THEY FLY in droves. A 9,000-mile trek across the globe, several times per year, Jamaican informal commercial importers (ICIs) are China bound.
They have all but abandoned the traditional markets and are taking advantage of the very low prices and hassle-free atmosphere of the Asian country.
Judith, an ICI who sells children's shoes in the Oxford Mall in downtown Kingston, told The Sunday Gleaner that she made several trips a year to purchase goods instead of travelling to the usual places, such as Miami and Curaçao.
"Sometimes we travel in groups. So, like nine, 10 of us will pool together and share one container," she said.
Judith said China's appeal lies in the fact that it works out much cheaper for the vendors and even-tually, the consumer, because they are cutting out the middleman and going straight to the source.
"You can get children's shoes for all US$2.50, and adult shoes for about US$3 or $4, while in Fort Lauderdale they selling for like US$10," Judith said.
availability of goods
Another vendor, Conseta, who sometimes makes the two-day, 9,000-mile trek across the globe with Judith, said when one took into consideration the low prices and availability of goods, the long journey and high plane fare were a minor price to pay.
A ticket to China can cost anywhere from about $200,000 to $300,000.
"You don't have to go to Panama, Curaçao, Miami or Los Angeles anymore when you can just go straight to China," she said. "Plus, I always say, those same people that you buy from in those other countries are shopping in China, too."
The vendors also said that the competition was often quite intense when they travelled to the United States as there was only a limited number of some of the fashionable items they might be interested in buying.
"Sometimes it's like a race, because you have to be hurrying and running about to make sure you get to a certain shop before somebody else gets there when you in Miami. But in China, there is enough for everybody, and if it finishes, they can make more, because we go right to the factory," said Conseta.
The women said the trip was often tiring and time consuming as they often had to make a number of stops through several countries to get to their destination.
Judith's preferred route is taking a one and a half hour trip from Kingston to Curaçao, where she stays in transit for three hours. She then boards a nine-hour flight to Amsterdam, where she spends an additional 13 hours.
"I will stay at a hotel, get something to eat, shower, get some sleep and then take a 12-hour flight from there to Hong Kong," she said.
One of the women's favourite towns to shop at when in China is Quanzhou.
peace of mind
Judith said she usually made about three to four trips a year, as she shopped based on the season and the level of need. "We usually shop for Easter, back-to-school, Independence and Christmas," she said.
"Shopping in China is a big thing for most ICIs these days. Even recently, about 150 of us meet up there," she said. "It is not just the shopping for me. When I am there, my mind is at peace. It's quiet and nice and there is hardly any crime, and people are appreciative of the money you spend with them," Judith added.
And language isn't necessarily a hindrance, as, according to the women, close to 75 per cent of Chinese residents speak English. There is also a large number of interpreters always willing to translate on behalf of the buyers and sellers.
The vendors, however, admitted that there was just one draw back to travelling so far to buy goods.
"It take about 21-30 days for the goods to get here. You have to wait very long and you have to remember that fashion don't stay in style for long. Styles change very quickly and people don't want anything that is out of date, so that is sometimes a challenge," Conseta said.