We travelled all over Busan looking for a television, but it rapidly began to feel like there were only three types of stores - the official manufacturer outlets of Samsung and LG, the second-tier electrical stores Hi-Mart and Etland, and the third tier volume discounters E-Mart and Tesco Home plus (sic). And this pretty much summed up the price differences as well, so inevitably it wasn't long before we had worked our way down the pricing scale and were honing in on buying from 'Home plus'.
Not that price was in any way a fixed concept as it turned out. It's understood where I come from that while there is some scope for negotiation in the large 'high street' electrical chains, it might be considered lucky to shave 10% from the advertised price - and negotiating in a Tesco supermarket is normally out of the question. By comparison, it didn't take long to realise that the prices on the store stickers in Korea bore no relation whatsoever to the price one might actually be expected to pay, with staff discounting the advertised prices by up to 40% without batting an eyelid. It reached a point where I started mentally discounting everything I saw by 30% as a rough guide before converting it into British Pounds - which I'm still given to do in order to consider its attractiveness, and we rapidly learnt to enter a store and immediately ask what the 'real price' of a particular model was
Presumably having sticker prices which bear no relation to the actual price is meant to encourage the notion of having found a bargain in Korea, but I just found it annoying; every now and again there would be a price that would look genuinely good, but the staff would go on to explain that as this was a special offer they could only discount a little from the sticker price. If there was consistency in advertised pricing and the discounting, it would have been much easier. I was left wondering what the point was. At least it explains why Samsung and LG TVs appeared to be more expensive in Korea than the UK - something which has always mystified me; they probably weren't - it just looked that way. Hefty discounting was rampant from the manufacturer's branded stores down to the likes of 'Home plus'.
There's another thing which they all had in common - the range of manufacturers to choose from - Samsung or LG. Yes, you might spot the occasional rather neglected-looking Sony Bravia LCD here or there desperately trying to undercut the domestic brands - but otherwise, you were choosing one or the other. Confusingly, not that Samsung and LG TVs are actually branded Samsung and LG. No, on the whole, for Samsung read PAVV, and for LG read Xcanvas. You might very well wonder why, when you've invested a considerable amount in creating brand names like Samsung and LG, you'd want to hide it from your products, and so do I, but that's the way things are here. LG is Xcanvas for TVs, and DIOS for refrigerators, whereas Samsung is PAVV for TVs, Hauzen and Zipel for refrigerators, and so on. I'm sure there's some method to it, and to be fair I can see it creates the (false) sense of living in a more diversified society with more consumer choice, rather than a two-horse town (as my American cousins would call it) or more appropriately, a duopoly. And perhaps, if you're living in a rather shoddily constructed LG apartment block (for instance), you might be less motivated to go out and buy an LG TV because there's that logo again from your ill-fitting window frame (yes, I do live in an LG-built apartment block and yes, the logo is everywhere).
If by some chance we wanted to live the LG life any more than we already did, we could buy an Xcanvas LCD with a built-in 'Time Machine' hard disk and IPTV system to deliver video on demand. In principle, this seemed like an option because we hadn't yet decided which cable TV provider to subscribe to. However, this was discouraged by one particularly knowledgeable and younger store assistant, who pointed out the redundancy of paying for video on demand when 'everything is on the Internet (in Korea) within fifteen minutes of it being broadcast'. Good point.
Everything may be on the Internet in Korea, but surprisingly, shopping for TVs online proved more complicated than in the UK, where it is a given that the likes of Amazon, Play.com and Ebuyer would offer the best prices. Yes, there are large 'online malls' such as Auction and Gmarket, but these really serve as venues for a style of peer-to-peer trading which has more in common with the eBay model. Consequently, there are real trust issues involved, and potentially scant protection from fraud in a country that - as far as I can tell - thanks to the power of the Chaebols was never big on consumer rights in the first place.
So when we chose to buy our 42" Xcanvas LCD from 'Home plus', it was in the full knowledge that the cheapest Internet price was almost 15% less. As it turned out though, it was about this time that our friends who were getting married wanted to buy a TV for their new apartment, and through a personal contact of theirs who worked at a 'Home plus' store, coupled with an additional discount for buying two TVs together, we actually ended up getting a better price than on the Internet. Buying locally also meant that we had an engineer come round from the store and set it up and test it for us, which might not sound like a big job, but did involve the annoyance of extending an existing TV socket which saved us some work. He gave us his card before he left as is the norm here.
And as it turned out, for the first time we actually came to use one of these cards for an after-sales enquiry. Our three-year old PCs don't have HDMI outputs, but I did bring a DVI-to-HDMI cable with me from the UK, which I'd been using to link to a TV there. Since DVI doesn't carry sound, this requires an additional audio cable, but I was unable to get this working with the Xcanvas. The engineer was able to suggest a solution over the phone which worked. Another win for Korea's customer service ethic. So once again we are able to watch Hulu properly...