In the US, when you see a price tag, end of story. In China, price tags can be just the beginning…
Wouldn’t it be great if you could BARGAIN for everything you wanted? Really, everything – from breakfast to lunch, T-shirts, umbrella’s, and…classes? In China, unless it’s a retail store, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to bargain for what you want. In fact, I was able to talk down the price of a Chinese Language Course, taught through a school, from 120 RMB to 80RMB per hour!
Bargaining is a part of life here in China. Most Chinese people expect to haggle over outrageous prices at the market, but foreigners can often get lost in the shuffle. When the US Dollar to Chinese Yuan is 1:6.6, all of a sudden that 50 Yuan shirt is seen as “so cheap! It’s barely $8!” All of a sudden, Westerners are buying souvenirs at triple the price Chinese tourists are paying. Many Chinese merchants know that their Western counterparts are ignorant of the rules of bargaining, and they use that to their advantage. So for those of you who may be travelling to the Middle Kingdom soon, here are my 5 best tips on how to score the biggest deals…
First, Foremost, Most Important and so on…NEVER start bargaining for something you don’t intend to buy. This is considered rude, and you could end up insulting the shop owner and making yourself look bad. If you don’t want it, a simple No Thanks or “bu yao” (I don’t want) will suffice. Sometimes you have to employ the old Cold Shoulder technique, but if you don’t want it, don’t act like you’re going to buy it. There’s something called “saving face” that works into this, but that’s an entirely different story that I’ll get to later on in the week. But I digress…
1. Never act excited. I’ve always found that the less you appear to want something, the lower the price goes. Even if you found that ONE perfect item you’ve been looking for, appear disinterested. A lot of times the price will drop just so the shop keeper can hope to inspire a sale.
2. Cut the price in half, then half it again. At many markets, especially markets with a large number of tourists, prices can sky rocket. A good rule of thumb is to half the price twice. So when a T-shirt costs 100 RMB, start bargaining at 25 RMB. You’ll likely to meet the shop keeper somewhere in the middle, which is probably closer to the price the shirt was worth in the first place.
3. You’re not stealing their money. Bargaining is a game. When the shop keeper sees you eyeing that T-shirt, they’ll ask you if you like it. (Remember – act disinterested!) Reply with an “I dunno…how much is it?” You’ll most likely get an answer close to “120 Yuan, but I’ll give you a special price – 100 Yuan!” This is where you looked outraged, and say “100 Yuan?? Tai gui le!” (Too expensive!) The shop keeper will then ask you how much you’ll pay for it, and I always start out around 15 or 20 Yuan. So say “I’m not sure, I already have something similar…I guess…15 RMB?” Then they’ll look outraged and say “15? No! I lose money!” You’ll get loads of different answers – I’m losing money, I have to feed my family, that’s too little, I need to pay for my (insert a phone, electric or other bill payment here). The bottom line is – no one will sell you anything if they weren’t making money off it. If you really think that that T-shirt is only worth 30 Yuan, and the shop keeper won’t go lower than 45, don’t be afraid to…
4. Walk Away. Walking away can often lead to the price of something being lowered. I’ve gotten all the way to another street when a vendor came chasing after me, waving my would-be purchase in her hands agreeing to my price. Walking away suggests that you’ll look to make another purchase somewhere else, and often a seller would rather sell you something of THEIRS for a lower price than lose a sale to their competitors.
5. Shop Around. In the Yu Garden, shop keepers are all selling the same things, so often you can find that same, “one of a kind” item at another stall for a cheaper price. In fact, if you’re at the Yu Garden, there are many shops outside the Yu Market itself that sell the same items as the market does – and those are even cheaper. Don’t limit yourself to one shop unless it’s really something you haven’t seen anywhere else.
Follow those tips, and you’re sure to score some great deals on your gifts! Also, it doesn’t help to bring a pad and paper with you to shop. Most times vendors will have a calculator with them, and you’ll haggle over prices by taking turns on punching prices into the calculator. For those times where calculators are nowhere to be found though, the pen and paper will come in handy! Also, learning numbers in Chinese helps!
Did you know that you can count to ten on one hand? That’s right! To help further your haggling career, check back later this week for a mini-lesson in numbers, prices and counting! I’ll give you a quick and dirty guide to shopping in China, complete with a short list of phrases to never go shopping without!
And as always, send your questions, comments and concerns to TheLastMangoinParis12@gmail.com or leave a comment!
Until next time – Zaijian!