By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS
Spending a single dollar bill on a purchase from your local dollar store does not seem like much, right? But with all the unique and necessary items on display its easy to rack up a $30-$50 bill at the register. Thatâ€™s why dollar stores are so popular in America especially given the current bourgeoning economy with Americans scraping together every last penny as the prices for fuel and food continue their upward spiral.
On the other side of the World, the same â€˜discount storeâ€™ mentality has slowly ebbed and flowed in the Middle East as the rate of inflation has also steadily increased over the years. Discount shops are popping up, like daisies, all over the Gulf. However, the prices are about 70% cheaper per item than in the US. Lovingly known as â€˜mia, miaâ€™, which translates into â€˜small, smallâ€™, discount stores in the Gulf sell items for about $0.37 per piece. â€˜Mia, miaâ€™ shops are a delight to the bargain hunterâ€™s eye with just about everything on offer, each suiting its own unique purpose.
There are essential items that include trash bags, soap, cutlery, ashtrays, thread, and sponges. Then there are beauty items which include nail polish, blush, lipstick and hair clips. Kids have not been forgotten with most stores dedicating an entire wall to stickers, coloring books, pads, notebooks, crayons and toys. Knickknacks and trinkets are also very popular in â€˜mia miaâ€™ shops with chimes, porcelain figurines, vases and silk flowers being on the peak of many shoppers list. And to top off the perfect shopping venue there is even a section dedicated to art with paints, palettes, brushes and scrap booking supplies like sponge letters and crocheted inserts readily available.
With so much available, and at such a low price, its not uncommon for the average customer to leave a â€˜mia miaâ€™ shop with 2 or 3 bags chock full of goods. However, there is a hidden downside to the cheap items, which is often hard to discern especially when the item is cloaked in the buyerâ€™s intense need or want. Almost, if not all, of the inventory of â€˜mia miaâ€™ shops is made in China which has become infamous the past couple of years over their tainted toys, toothpaste and most recently infant milk and ice cream bars. Countless items that China exports all over the World have been found to contain high levels of lead, diethylene glycol, melamine and other chemicals, which are harmful to humans.
Unlike the US, where the FDA and Consumer Product Safety Commission keep Americans safe from harmful products in the marketplace, there is no such regulating body in the Gulf. For example, at least one merciless merchant in Kuwait was recently spotted by a local journalist selling brands of the Chinese tainted toothpaste on their store shelves. And even though the journalist highlighted the case in a public newspaper and warned the shop owner of the dangers posed to consumers, the toothpaste remains on the shelf today with customers still buying it unaware of the danger. Even at only $0.37 a pop, the owner obviously did not want to cut into his paltry profits for the sake of his fellow man. And so far the government has stayed out of it by neither penalizing the shop owner nor forming a task force to deal with dangerous goods being sold in the local market.
It is beyond tempting to purchase cheap goods especially when, globally, the family budget is growing tighter and tighter. However, the buyer needs to be aware of the dangers of saving a few nickels and dimes especially when the price of endangering your health, or even you life, is so high. And in the Gulf, like so many other things, residents must rely on their own consumer savvy and common sense because there is no one else to do it for them.