Thailand Customer Service and Shopping Experiences: YIKES.

My friend Jason at recently posted something about customer service in Thailand… This is also an area that gets me revved up. Not in a good way.

I have never larned cuss words in Thai – as I’d use them liberally. In America I was a guy that didn’t let too many things go by. Wrong me and you’ll know. And, you’ll fix it or somebody sure would. Customer service in America sucks to the highest possible degree of suck. It’s suck to the nth degree.

It’s part of the whole culture there though. In customer service you’re the lowest of the low in the states. You’re expected to do what the customer wants and to keep the customer happy. The customer is spending money (maybe) and it’s up to you to entice him/her to spend it. Working in McDonald’s they could give 2 shites. If they hear you wrong in the drive-through they’re pissed at YOU. They’re under pressure to perform very quickly and be nice at the same time.

In Thailand it’s different. There IS no pressure that I’ve seen. Even at McDonald’s in Bangkok, nobody seems pressured because even in BKK the Thais’ are much more patient than in the USA. Even if it’s crowded, no worries… So, pleasantness isn’t usually a problem in Thailand unless the owner of the business is there and she or he is waiting on you. It’s a matter of face then of course. The owner is being watched by other employees and if nothing is sold to the ‘rich farang’ then the seller wasn’t that good.

If the farang gets angry – worse… because nothing is getting sold for sure then.

The Thais’ appear to be unattached to the outcome of a sale. If they sell something, that’s nice. If not, that’s nice. They’re not pushy. They will leave you alone if you ask. Ask anything else and they are clueless. Thais’ don’t apprear to know about the products they’re selling. They don’t care. They might have a cell phone shop, but not be able to tell you which phones have speaker phone. Which have EDGE? Which have WIFI? If they can’t physically SEE it on the outside of the phone – it appears beyond them. Ask them about camera – they KNOW that one. They can see it. Ask them about operating system and they’re lost. Ask them about anything except camera and they’re lost!

It’s NOT just cell phones, it’s virtually anything. They are not savvy sales people.

Walk into a car dealer, motorbike dealer, or bicycle dealer and try to get a test drive. What’s that? There is no such thing in Thailand. If you insist you can sometimes get one. I made the Honda dealer let me drive the 2nd hand Honda Nova around the used lot in the back in a circle – so at least I could see how it ran. I literally forced them by smiling and insisting…. they let me. It took a visit from the manager and 5-7 minutes of convincing, and smiling and being nice – but he let me. EVERY employee in the place stopped to watch because apparently that was the first time they ever saw that.

I’ve ranted about that before… Thailand’s Buy before you Try System of sales…
I’ve also written about Thailand businesses

What about what seems like a national “No Returns” policy? What the hell is that about? I’ve tried to return many things in the past only to be told there are no returns. The ONE time I was able to return, but was offered credit instead of cash back was when I bought a 20,000 baht Nokia e65 phone that turned out to be just a bit too small for my fingers and I needed to return it. They were nice, and I traded it for an e70 which I’ve since sold. I was amazed that I could swap phones out since I’d had the phone for a week. Apparently there was a 14 day return policy at TeleWiz… So – ask about it if you buy a phone there. When I returned it, it was immaculate, and exactly as brand new – so they took it no questions.

What drives me nuts is when there are no prices on the items – and the store owner makes up a price they think fits the buyer. That’s a pisser. I know they’re adding 50% on top of what it should cost.

What’s funny is when you call them on it – I walked by a guy selling camouflage pants on the sidewalk. I asked how much – 1100 baht. I said, WHAT? He said, 1100 baht. I said, HUH? Tesco is selling these exact pants for 400 baht. No, no… mai chai, mai chai…

CHAI! I was just there the night BEFORE. Mai, “Mai Chai”… mee, jing-jing. Saan yaaa

He asks his friend standing there. He says, Mai chai.

I said, Kun loo! Tomai, Mai Loo? (You KNOW! Why don’t you know?)

They got quiet then, I said, really, how much if I buy this pair of pants…

1100 baht.

Holy shite, I could buy them in America for $14 (under 500 baht)! It’s like they thought they had something farangs hadn’t seen before or something!

What else is more expensive here than in the USA…? I know there was something that I almost fell on the floor over…

OH! I asked the internet cafe guy – if I print these 200 pages of my book – just words – type – how much per page?

He says, usually – 6 baht per page.

I said, but I’m printing 200 pages.

Yes, 6 baht each page. He agrees after punching it in a calculator.

I said, ‘but that’s 1200 baht.’


‘I could BUY a printer for 1100 baht and print this out for that much.’ I say, almost laughing.

Ohhh, hahahah – he laughs… ‘yes’.

I said, ‘Is there any printing shop here?’ I explained that we have Kinko’s and other major printing shops that will print in quantity for much cheaper.

He said, ‘Yes. Print shop Thailand same, 6 baht paper”.

Holy crikey.

So I still haven’t printed the book needless to say.

Oh, one more thing… the fake clothes and shoes. I like to buy quality shoes. That’s one thing I don’t skimp on. I like the Nike sport sandals in particular. I searched EVERYWHERE for them. I found every one of the places I looked sold fakes.

Do you know how I knew they were fake? Where there is supposed to be rubber on the bottom – it’s plastic. Lick your figer and rub in the bottom of the shoe – if it get’s stickier – grippier, then it’s rubber. If not – or gets worse, then it’s plastic.

There is some sports chain here – they have one in Surat Thani, Krabi, Phuket, I can’t remember the name – but they have EVERYTHING.

Every SINGLE thing in the entire store is fake. I looked at shoes, bikes, shorts, shirts, tennis racquets, backpacks, and fishing equipment – it’s all fake. Unreal. I guess it’s coming from China.

Finally in Koh Samui I stumbled upon a Nike outlet – so they said. I looked at some shoes and picked some that I couldn’t tell if they were rubber or plastic – and I haven’t fallen on my arse yet, and I guess they are real. I also bought some for my girlfriend – and they too – are in question, but they were the best we could find.

Hmm… shopping in Thailand… I’m so glad I don’t need to buy anything this week…

Any stories about your shopping adventures and what frustrated you?
Leave a comment, I’ll post it….

Author: Vern

I'm an American expat living in Thailand. I like to write informative pieces about life in, living in Thailand, including topics like: Thai People, Thai Culture, Nightlife, Technology, and I have published a lot of photographs, videos, and even books on Thailand that you can find at There are many photographs of Thailand here - feel free to share with attribution (a link back to the home page). All written content on this site by Vern Lovic. Contact me at Google+.

4 thoughts on “Thailand Customer Service and Shopping Experiences: YIKES.”

  1. anon – I can’t really agree with you here as a generalization of ‘thai people’ but, yah, to some of them especially those that work in the tourist areas – pattaya, bkk, patong, and some others -you’re nothing more than body with a wallet. Vern

  2. Now I know why it’s called “bitching”.

    I have seen many ‘bitchy farangs’ that are clueless on thai culture, it’s quite amusing to see how the thais act and what they say when the ‘smart farang’ leaves the store, market, bar or any other establishment.
    You may think your a ‘customer’ there; but your nothing but a dog with money in the eyes of the thai.

  3. Yes, I’ve noticed the thing about being the first customer of the day – in Ubon Ratchathani, and years ago in Hawaii among the Chinese store owners there.

    I agree with you too about keeping a smile on your face if you can because they are more likely to give in…


    Great comment – thanks man. Vern

  4. Yep. I’ve run into the same thing repeatedly. The only good things I can think of is that first the fakes are considerably cheaper than originals and second there are probably a hundred different vendors selling the same thing so if you don’t like the prices in one place simply move on to the next.

    It usually helps to buy right when the shop opens because of the Thai’s belief (I think they picked this up from the Chinese) that the first customer of the day is lucky for the seller. If they make the sale then the rest of the day will be good and if they lose the sale the rest of the day will be shite. I’ve taken advantage of this on numerous occasions.

    I can also be helpful to look for the stall vendor who appears desperate.

    Always always bargain, but keep it friendly and joking and you can usually get a pretty good bargain. I tend to do a lot of the bargaining when my wife and I go shopping because she says I am much better than her at it. Keep in mind she is Thai so has been doing this her whole life and should understand the process much better. Maybe I just have the knack. Sometimes it almost seems like I become the “salesman” in these transactions, but I usually get a pretty good deal on most things even if they fall apart 2 weeks later :)

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