Thursday, May 08, 2008


There is no better bargain shopping in all of Asia that in China, in my humble opinion. This may be because I'm fairly adept at doing it in the local language, or it may be sheer practice. But I've found no greater discrepancy between the initial asking price, and the amount they actually expect you to pay than here.

These bargains, however, come at a steep price to one's personal and emotional well-being. Bargaining here is not for the faint of heart, especially if you choose the more foreign infested markets where the vendors have acquired a functional level of annoying English phrases. To walk away with loads of dongxi ("stuff") at rock bottom prices, you must be willing to endure a constant barrage of these phrases which include, but are by no means limited to the following:
"Hello lady, you wanna buy some jacket?"
"Hi! Lady! How about some man t-shirt?"
"Hello, shoes! Look at shoe please!"
"Hello lady, Prada? Gucci? I have Coach!"
As you make your way through a tunnel of this pleading (with occasional grabbing - nothing turns me off like the grabbing) a stall might catch your eye. You pause. The vendors, sensing interest, being displaying their items within inches of your face. "You like this one? You want this color?" Don't rely on them to accurately provide answers to questions like, "Do you have one like this?" because to them, anything is similar. You're looking for a purse right? They're all purses, therefore all alike. You can count on them to pull out, at some point, something that is so hideous you will wonder who IS buying it. You also cannot depend on vendors to judge size correctly. Whatever size you need is exactly the size they have, as evidenced by conversations like,
Me: Do you have this in a different size?
Vendor: What size do you need?
Me: 6
Vendor: That's a size 6.
Me: It says 24 months.
Vendor: Yeah, six year olds can wear it too.

If you do find something of interest, then the delicate dance begins. Showing too much interest will let them know they can get a higher price. But if you're too tough and belligerent, you're in danger of leaving them crying and cursing on the floor. This may not seem like a bad idea to some, but you'll never be able to come back to that vendor, and at the very least you'll have to endure them throwing darts at you with their eyes every time you pass again. Do you really want that?

So when they do pull out just what you've been looking for, how do you proceed? Contain your enthusiasm. Make a doubtful look. Casually ask how much. They will assure you that this price they are about to say is special, just for you. It will be astronomical. Express utter shock and take a step back, as though what you've heard was even just a bit obscene. They will back track with something like, "ok, friend, ok, give me your best price."

Now comes the tricky part. What you just heard is probably up to 10 times the price they actually expect to get from you (case in point - yesterday I bought something for 60 kuai when she started at 520). Whatever you do, don't say a price yet. Ask them to give you a better price. If it's still not reasonable, then walk away. Immediately the price will drop to something more reasonable. Once it's within range of what you're willing to pay, come back and pick your price. Then stick to it. Don't raise it. They'll ask you to, but don't. 95 % of the time you can get it for what you start with. When you're done, give them all the assurance in the world that you will send all your friends to their stall in the future.

So there you have it. A brief tutorial on how to buy something for less than you'd pay anywhere else, if you're willing to navigate the process.

1 comment:

Pam said...

Very informative...I will remember these tips next time I need to bargain!