Buying a computer mouse in Minsk

This was written in 2002 and is not true anymore. The computer market is much more civilized now, after the state legalized it for its own profit.

What can be simpler than that? Drop in a supermarket, choose a model out of half a dozen available and leave with your new mouse, probably not the cheapest one, but of an acceptable price and decent quality.

Now, this is the most probable scenario in Warsaw, Teheran or Manila, but you have to follow a different route in Minsk.

First, you look up on the Internet the prices of local computer firms. There are several sites that list prices from most of the firms but the local star is Prices are listed in one line per item, which is composed of the name of the company, a short description of the item, its shop price, gross price and dealer’s price. While very concise, the list can grow quite big and it actually had ~300 entries for mice and “ other manipulators”, as they say in the computer slang.

Few companies ship to the doors. If you are lucky, your story ends here. However, most of them sell in-place only. Once you have decided to visit them, provide yourself with a map of the town and some patience, as even the big resellers do not show up from the outside of the street. Their offices are always located deep inside the buildings of half-closed research institutes or state companies, among the multitude of small law firms, publishing and printing companies that rent their offices in the same place.

The firm of our choice was located in the building belonging to a transport company. Having wandered a few minutes in the hallways, we found our firm on the 2nd floor, near the lady’s room.

We found ourselves in a small room with two sellers at their PCs next to us, one unused PC standing on a table on the left, two stands with a dozen of different keyboards and computer cases in one and mice, GSMs and processor coolers in another. Five or six buyers were hanging around. It turned out that they were waiting for price lists that one of the sellers was printing on a small laser printer. Some people disappeared as soon as they got their price lists from the sellers. We stayed with few others, waiting for our portion of paper to come out of the printer.

The price list was a thick pile of paper filled entirely with one big table printed in small characters that looked almost exactly the same as on-line.

After we checked the price of our mouse in the price list and made sure it is identical to the one announced on-line, we ordered it and the seller issued a small piece of paper with the name of our mouse and his signature. He also pointed us to a small door on the right and said that one of us should enter to pay. He insisted that only one person enters at a time and we soon understood why.

Behind the door, there was the cashier. He had a remote control of the door lock under his right hand so that the buyer could only enter or leave after he unlocks a huge shifting lock that blocked the door. This installation is intended to help prevent third parties and witnesses view the transaction process as it often occurs in dollars and euros which is illegal for vendors. This is also a way to insure that no inspection can enter and demand to examine the contents of the cash desk and books before the cashier getre prepared to it.

After on of us presented the printout we were given in the mail room, payed and had the printout stamped, we returned to the main room waiting for the delivery of the mouse. It came with a tall beared man carrying a plastic bag filled with computer accessories. As he entered the same door as the customers, we thought he was a customer and it only became clear he was a delivery guy when people turned to him with the stamped printouts.

He collected the printouts,distributed the accessories including our mouse and disappeared the same way he entered. It was not too hard to guess that this man was also working that way to avoid inspection so that the company could distantiate itself as much as possible from the warehouse and to avoid ther seizing of the stock by controlling organizations.