Whilst returning back to town from FOSSASIA 2016, I passed a familiar second-hand store that I used to go to whenever I was in Jurong East. CASH CONVERTERS! - that good ol brick-and-mortar franchise in the business of "buying and selling unwanted goods" - land of excess factory stock, used CDs and other outmoded forms of media entertainment, joblots of made-for-tv egg cooking devices, tennis racquets tanned yellow with age, furry massage mats, porcelain dogs, used mugs, extruded plastic god-of-fortune statuettes, bowling balls wrapped in cellophane...
Speaking of hard objects enthusiastically wrapped in plastic, I came across a section that I hadn't quite noticed in previous visits. Lodged in a rather small shelf, in a few red plastic baskets (not dissimilar to the green plastic baskets I used for sorting my rocks in the past), I discovered that someone had secreted a whole cachet of rocks. Yes my friends. In the middle of Jurong East's Cash Converters is an entire SECOND HAND ROCK SECTION. (Maybe I should start my own rock shop like them too huh)
No provenance. No information. Just rocks wrapped so tightly in plastic that in some cases you couldn't see them properly. Which makes it slightly alarming when a few of them are not in protective plastic shells (I worry for a moment, is the sweat on my grubby hands in danger of inflicting corrosion upon these rocks??)
And of course, because Cash Converters has made the re-selling of seemingly unwanted and useless objects their entire business, there is also a price tag.
How does Cash Converters determine the price for rocks? From looking online, people say that Cash Converters in other places use the prices of other existing online catalogues such as ebay, argos, etc to determine an object's value (when it was new) and then quotes a fraction of that (pricing it so that CC would eventually still make a significant 60-100% profit on the sale of the object).
But... rocks? Even as ornamental fengshui rocks? Is there a special catalogue for fengshui rocks here? How does the CC staff evaluate it? Is it size, weight, appearance?
Also, seriously, what is up with the prices all being XX.80 or with the number 8 in them? Is the inclusion of 8 in the pricing a strategic tactic for pricing within chinese markets?
What is fascinating is that when you look at the centrepiece display within the interior of second-hand shops like Cash Converters in Singapore and the glass front of the second hand shop, it is often dominated by highly valued prosperity symbols and objects of religious syncretism, mixed up with the visual language of designed lifestyle objects, on a bed of laser-cut acrylic and LEDs.
I also hasten to add that whilst I was at Cash Converters, no less than 4 middle-aged Chinese men shuffled through this aisle and spent a long time carefully evaluating the rocks on this shelf, so I personally I did get the impression that these rocks were definitely an object of curiosity, and perhaps by extension, even objects of desire...
Prosperity Pricing? The use of number "8" in prices of Chinese consumer products
Some googling takes me to this paper: The Use of 'Lucky' Numbers in the Pricing of Chinese A-Share Initial Public Offerings where the abstract notes that existing marketing literature shows that "the number 8 is consistently used as a price-ending in advertising for Chinese consumer products" - to capitalise on investor sentiment.