Casio Exilim Z850

February 6th, 2007
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After three or four trips to Yongsan Electronics market left me dissatisfied with my ability to strike a good deal on a digital camera, I sprung upon Namdaemun today and scored me a winner.

Namdaemun had a street-full of camera shops, as opposed to the open air indoor marketplace of Yongsan. Don’t get me wrong, on a good day, deals are to be had in Yongsan; my problem was that I simply didn’t have the patience to deal with constant bargaining.

What aids the Yongsan dealers is collusion. While the setup appears to be a huge exercise in free market capitalism, what in fact goes on is a complex system of mini-monopolies. One dealer may be the specialist in Japanese imported Sony SLR cameras. Another will be the Nikon guy. Yet another will have the market cornered on Canon models. However, each stall will sell many different models. In addition to their behind-the-scenes negotiated-amongst-one-another price points for each model, they carry a range of other models that represent their profitable money-makers. This is what explains the customer experience of going up to one clerk and getting a quote of ₩390,000, then getting quoted ₩300,000 at a stall 10 meters away for the same exact product. Most models at each store are not their “lowest price point” model, so the price they quote you on those cameras is a random assessment of how much they want to make, how many cameras they’ve sold that week/day, your perceived gullibility as a consumer, etc. They choose their margin on the spot.

You may get lucky and stumble on the “Casio guy” when you’re looking for a Casio. But realistically it’s going to take some hunting. This leads to a tiring process of hide & seek and negotiation, as Shawn & I found out. We watched as one clerk distracted a customer with sales talk, as another clerk ran over to another stall and asked for a model of camera they didn’t carry. He then brought it back over to his counter to sell the customer. Make no mistake, these guys are definitely in cahoots.

At Namdaemun, I was essentially able to bypass this system. The shop owners are not in apparent collusion, and as such, the very first guy quoted me a reasonable price on the exact camera I wanted. The scene went like this:

Me: Do you have the Casio Exilim z850?
Smiling owner: Sure! (grabs the box from behind him and places it on the counter, smugly content in an amusing way to me)
Me: 얼마예요 (how much does it cost?)
Him (to young guy sitting at a computer towards the back of the store, in Korean): Look up the Casio Exilim z850 on GMarket.com!

Now this is something I’ve already done before starting my shopping, so there won’t be any surprises today. I know this thing goes for ₩290,000 on GMarket or Omi, and $300 on Amazon.com, which are the 3 cheapest places this camera is to be found. But in each case, I’ve got to deal with shipping. I think I can do better through negotiation. The response comes back from the young guy.

Owner types out number on calculator: ₩290,000

Holy shit, this man just matched the cheapest online price and isn’t going to be charging shipping! And this is only my first shop of the day. I’m feeling good about Namdaemun. Shawn grudgingly follows me out of the store after I thank the owner and tell him I’ll be back. He’s accompanied me on the other camera purchasing outings, and is tired of my relentless pursuit of the absolute best deal. By absolute, I’m talking about the mathematical definition, like absolute zero. Not the modern accepted version of absolute, like “Man, Miguel was absolutely plastered last night!” [side note, the similar misuse of literal has become widespread: “Dude, we were literally flying down the road!” Colorful, but untrue.] No, I want absolutely the best deal, bar none. And Shawn’s afraid he’s in for another 3 hour trip to Seoul where we come back empty handed.

It didn’t take long. After going into three or four other stores that didn’t come close, I wrote some low numbers in my notebook: ₩280,000, ₩300,000, ₩260,000. I scribble “free mem card” “camera case” and “batteries” in the margin. With my ideal “competitor prices” in hand, we turn to go back to YesDica. We hover outside the store, me getting my mindset ready for the negotiation, Shawn steeling himself for my bullheaded refusal to just cooperate with destiny.

I lay my book on the counter. Tell him other stores offer me better deals, but I like his style and want to buy from him. Flattered, he offers me a deal: ₩290,000.

Me: That’s the same price as before!
Him: Good price! Deal! (he turns with a grin, grabs a bag as if to complete our purchase)
Me (pointing to entries in my book): I can get better prices elsewhere, but I like you. Work with me.
Him (types in calculator): 289,000
I laugh, seeing that he’s game.
I type in 250,000. He laughs. I take out the cash to show him I’m ready to buy and not just lowballing.
He types 285,000 in the calculator. We go back and forth, me denying unneeded memory card & battery offers. “I just need the camera – let’s come up with a good price.”
Him: THIS is a good price!

Back and forth, after his silly $1 increments, I chisel him down to 275,000 which to me is an absolute steal. He waves his hands over the counter in an umpire’s ‘safe’ motion, “Fine, you take it and get out!” But smiling a genuine smile like he’s playing this game by choice and for fun. He attitude was exactly what I’d look for in a salesperson. I hate pushy salesmanship, I always have. It’s nothing personal against those who do it, it’s the system that encourages and rewards this type of behavior that I loathe. But not in this store, not today.

And so I find myself today, 100% satisfied, hell, giddy even, about my brand new digital camera.

See a 3D spinnable version with full specs.
(Sorry, they’ve archived the virtual pics since this model’s old now.)

** Postscript **

This camera kicked all ass. I bought this camera to strategically supplement Shawn’s nice DSLR camera, which takes amazing pics as expected, but is just a little clunky to carry around on daily adventures. The Casio Exilim Z850 fit the bill perfectly. It took pictures and NEVER ran out of battery life. Though I’m admittedly not a good photographer, this thing is pretty forgiving, and if anyone takes thousands of pictures, a few will come out great. (Those few will be appearing on this blog by the way). I was immensely pleased with the performance, value, and fun factor of this pocket-sized wonder. Sadly, it met its end as I was taking pictures of the office for Secret Santa. Just dropped out of my hand while the lens was extended, jamming the gears. Right before Christmas. But the memories that this thing captured… viva exilim z850, 2007-2007.


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