Bargaining in Beijing
To properly bargain in Beijing is truly an art form, and the techniques for achieving the lowest possible price are endless. The recipe of a good deal is a nice mixture of charm, confidence and patience.
When and where?
In all markets where the majority of the costumers are tourists, you must bargain a lot. But also at the other markets, be prepared for some real bargaining, especially if you in any way can be considered looking wealthy. You should not try to bargain in malls, supermarkets, taxis where meters are used, or at restaurants. But these are exceptions; you can almost always negotiate about the price on everything from hotel rooms to bananas, if needed.
It's impossible to say that "a quarter of the starting price" or a tenth or anything else, is the price that you should pay. On the other hand: if it was that easy, bargaining would lose a lot of its charm, wouldn't it?
Before you get in the fight you can try to get an idea of what others have paid for your attempted goods. Ask friends, locals or hotel staff what they think. Of course you can take a shot at what it's worth and start bargaining directly, but if the salesperson gives in too quickly, it's a sign that you're paying too much. Remember to always start with a price a bit lower than what you really have in mind.
Don't worry about disappointing someone. In the big markets, the salespeople are good at using the tourists' insecurity and they often pretend to be disappointed whatever the price suggested is. Try to be cheerful, smile and joke a little, then everything usually works out fine. If the salesperson would really lose money by accepting your offer, he/she wouldn't even discuss it with you.
An example of what it may sound like:
- Hi, friend! What are you looking for?
- How much for this pen?
- 60 yuan.
- Ooo, too much. I'll give you 5 yuan.
- Freind, you're joking. Best price, 55 yuan.
- No, you're joking. Best price, 8 yuan.
- No, friend. Look, this is good quality. Best, best price 40 yuan.
- Sorry, I only have 10 yuan. Thats my final offer.
(While whipping out your box-fresh 10 yuan bill waveing it in her face).
- Friend, I loose money. Little bit more, 30 yuan.
- Nope, sorry. 10 yuan. (starting to walk away)
- Ok, friend 20 yuan?! I loose money!
You keep walking away shaking your head.
- Ok, ok, friend. Come back. 10 yuan.
Usually the bargaining is actually performed on a pocket calculator, to avoid misunderstandings.
Having money in small values is often good; in that way you can easily pull up the exact sum that you want to pay, and hopefully get the salesperson to agree on the price without a discussion.
When the price is not lowered enough, or when you have those last little yuans left until the price is on the right level, it can be time to start walking away from the salesperson. Hopefully, it will make him/her shouting at your back that they accept your price. Often you have to walk away more than once before you get the price you want.
It's sometimes said that what you wear for your shopping tour is an important factor for what price you get. They say that if you dress shabbily, the salesperson will assume that your assessments are kind of poor, and give you a good price. On the other hand, the same theory also gives that if you dress kind of elegant, the service will be much better. That is also what our experience tells us. The shabby look can give you some advances from the beginning, but there is nothing that stops a bargaining master in his best suit to get the price down to the exact same level.
Some salespeople are not afraid to cheat tourists. There are some things that can be useful to know, especially if you're planning to buy more expensive stuff. For example, if a salesperson asks you what you're doing in Beijing, politeness may not be the only reason. Maybe what he/she is interested in, is finding out if you are a suitable person to sell false goods to. The wrong answer to this question is that you are a tourist, and that you are about to leave the country soon. Instead, tell them that you are staying for a longer period of time and that you will be using this thing a lot during that time, and that you would like the salesperson's guarantee that this is a product of high quality. This phenomenon is fairly common when you buy electronics, especially mp3-players and memory cards where the real memory isn't necessarily what the package says. Always try the product before you buy it. If you discover that something is wrong with the product while you're still in Beijing, it is usually no problem changing it where you bought it.
When it comes to clothes it's important to always try them on before you buy them. If a store doesn't have your size, and a salesperson goes away to search for it in the stockroom, always make sure that what he/she gets you is not in fact the exact same product, only with a different size label.