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Price Upon Request

A tagging question

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HAVES AND MUST-HAVES : Is there a come-hither message implicit in the 'betcha don't dare' of the three words?

'Price Upon request' tags tease you with mystery, suspense and the promise of exclusivity.

Alfred Hitchcock famously said, "Mystery is an intellectual process, suspense is an emotional one. " And if there is one thing that makes the two converge for many people it is the term 'Price Upon Request', the titillating term favoured by lifestyle centrespreads.

From scarlet stilettoes to fur pouches, diamond-studded watches to It Bags, that line irritatingly obfuscates what would otherwise be a full frontal appeal of a perhaps unattainable but undeniably desirable object. It is like a censor's killjoy bleep.

It is not just the fact that such a tagline has a shrouding (if not a John Doe) effect on an otherwise perfectly identifiable item but also the idea that the seller is tempting the reader to guess, and condemning the person to falling short. A sort of 'The Price is Right!' gameshow, in print.

"Betcha can't tell" of course, is less annoying than a "Betcha can't buy". Both taunts, however, are implicit in those three priceless words. If one offends the intellectual ability and pricegauging radar of the intrepid fashionista, the other questions her net worth.

No wonder, like a Hitchcock whodunit, that line can often drive a normal consumerist person to murderous thoughts induced by luxedeprivation. Like invading some of those luxury stores, brandishing an armoury of deadly platinum credit cards and demanding satisfaction.

For some items, the 'Price Upon Request' tag is understandable: not everyone who can afford to buy a lifestyle publication (even when converted into freefalling rupees) would also be able to snag a private island or a yacht. So insisting on a query is understandable.

But how many islands and yachts are listed as must haves? They are far outnumbered by 'It' bags, shoes, jewellery and clothing in 'what's trending' compendiums. And for those items there is no need to weed out the smallwalleted by a query tag, as luxury at that level is largely democratised.

The answer lies elsewhere. Those three words are apparently a code that has nothing to do with guessing games, put-downs or put-offs. To be the first off the block, fashion and luxury magazines feature items straight from runway collections, before prices are decided. Hence, the ambiguity.

Worse still, many such items never go into commercial production at all, making queries about the price a frustrating exercise. An abundance of 'price on request' tags in magazines point, then, to their inability to spot the difference between runway chutzpah and actual commercial potential.

In India the story is slightly different, as it should be since retail is hardly as widespread and corporatised as in the West. A straw poll of several top luxury brand labels here - whose wares routinely carry that annoying tag in publications - drew responses ranging from pat to sheepish.

One brand averred that shrouding the price in mystery drew customers into the store for a dekko at least instead of being spooked by the hefty actual sum. But another equally coveted brand believes that not telling the price straight off makes the customer concentrate on the superior craftsmanship instead.

Yet another offered the explanation that those products were not in stock yet and therefore had no listed Indian price. The wittiest one, though, was that as a price query would anyway yield at least a Euro approximation for the item, the Indian jet-setting customer could snap it up on the next trip abroad!

There is a niggling suspicion, though, that some canny less-than-luxe brands are also going the 'price on request' way to exploit both the mystery and suspense aspects. There is, after all, a 'come hither' message implicit in the 'Betcha can't' dare.

The one reassuring discovery, at least for Indians, is that all items are price-tagged in luxury retail stores - as per our rules. Imagine if the suspense over the price actually carried on till the item arrived at the payment counter. . . But as this also implies price is no bar, it may be an incentive for some Indian buyers!

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