How To Bargain Like A Pro

On your first trip to a place like Beijing one thing that may overwhelm you is the sheer amount of things that are being sold, from Chairman Mao watches to brass Buddhas to fake branded clothing. It’s understandable that you’ll probably want to buy some of it, but if you’re not careful then you’ll end up parting with a pretty penny to place your mucky paws on the produce.

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So, being a lovely and considerate chap I’m going to teach you how to throw your morals to the wind, lie, emotionally blackmail and blag your way into a bargaining victory! Aren’t I nice?

Make Sure You…

  • Learn how much the currency is worth. It’s easy to get thrown off by not knowing how much you are ACTUALLY paying. Thankfully (at least for Brits) the Yuan is at about 9.8 to the £, which can be effectively rounded up to 10 Yuan per £. Once you’ve got this simple calculation down it becomes easier to know how much you are paying for things. NEVER go to a foreign country and try to bargain in USD. That is bargain suicide. Stick to the local currency unless you want to get suckered.
  • Wipe that “what-the-hell-is-going-on” tourist-in-a-new-country look off your face. This face to the stall vendor is effectively a wounded gazelle to the hungry lioness. They’ll sink their teeth in deep and before you even realize how screwed you just got you’ll have handed over a substantial quantity of dosh for a plastic statue of Sun Yat Sen. Even if you don’t know what the hell is going on, make sure to come across as confident, self assured, and for God’s sake put that Lonely Planet back in your bag.

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Watch Out For…

  • The fake comparison. This is especially prevalent in shoe and clothing stores. Vendors keep one item of horrendous quality that they never sell. When you pick something you like and try to bargain a price with them, they will bring out said item and tell you for the price you just gave they could sell you THAT item, but the one you chose is so much better, and thus requires a higher price.
  • The baffling calculator thingy. After you’ve stated a price, some vendors will grab a calculator, do some sort of equation that doesn’t mean anything and show you the number on the screen, as if it’s irrefutable proof that this is the price you must pay. This move is often paired with the one above. Of course, it’s absolute hogwash. Disregard this bizarre practice.

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When Bargaining…

  • Be stern, but not surly. Inspect the quality of the item you are about to buy. Any flaws? Perfect – bargaining chip. Once you’ve inspected it, come up with a price. If you’re not sure how much the item should cost, ask the vendor for their price, then divide it by at least three. They haven’t snatched the item off you and moved onto other customers? Great, the price is fine, don’t raise the figure at all.
  • Butter them up. Learned from my dear girlfriend, the master of the bargain. Instead of being blunt and assertive, as many rookie bargainers are, you want the vendor to like you. The more they like you, the more likely they’ll be willing to lower their minimum sale price. Crack a joke, tell them they look nice when they smile, give them a sob story, only leave X amount of cash in your wallet/purse then tell them you can’t pay any more because it’s all you have. They screw people over for a living, don’t feel bad about doing it back!
  • Don’t let the vendor know you’ve got your heart set on an item of theirs. Once they know this you’re putty in their hands. Put on your poker face and hide that enthusiasm. Tell them you’ve seen the same item for a cheaper amount at a different stall, even if you haven’t.
  • Learn the walk away, the most powerful tool of all. The walk away is effectively a game of chicken; who will buckle first? Vendor or customer? There’s one sure-fire way to tip the balance in your favour: time. The more time the vendor has invested in you, the less willing they are to let you go. If you walk away immediately after a price is given, it’s no loss to them. However, if they’ve been talking back and forth with you over the price of a sarong for the past 10 minutes you have become valuable. I’d advise you only to do the walk away after exhausting all other options and only if a) you could stand the thought of not getting the item or b) you’re 100% confident the vendor will buckle.

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Good luck!

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About Greg

A simpleton from West Yorkshire, England living in Beijing. I try to document the oddities, frustrations and funnies that happen to me whilst out here. Hopefully you enjoy reading these little episodes as much as I enjoy writing them.
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4 Responses to How To Bargain Like A Pro

  1. Sharry says:

    Sometimes the stall owners are really aggressive. Even if you don’t want something, they’ll follow you around the entire street trying to sell it to you!

  2. Still Times says:

    Oh the hellish haggle markets, can be fun and frustrating all at the same time.For me all deals are off if you grab me, seriously can’t stand the all mighty grab. Good article!

    • gregschina says:

      Yeah, I’m the same. As soon as they touch me it’s off. In fact I usually like to go to the stalls where they seem disinterested and I have to be the one to start up conversation.

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