Haggling is a necessary and extremely entertaining part of shopping in China.
When I first came to Shanghai in 2011 to study, I was overwhelmed by the congested mazes of small shops at the city’s numerous discount malls. In floors upon floors of vendors, products on display range from frilly, tacky clothing and blinged out rhinestone Hello Kitty jewelry to shoes covered in fake fur and Chinglish-emblazoned everything. If I were to describe the nature of China’s retail offerings in one word, it would undoubtedly be kitschy.
In this glorious (capitalist) country, there are entire shopping complexes dedicated to fake goods that carry purses, clothing, shoes and even electronics. Want a counterfeit Macbook or Bose speakers? Then Shanghai’s 580 Nanjing West Road fake market is the place for you.
I went a little crazy my first summer here, spending around $2000 on shopping alone in 2 months.
Shopping in China is completely different than anything you will experience in the West. There is a laissez-faire mindset that accompanies every purchasing excursion(kind of like everything else in China, from adhering to traffic laws to the things restaurants are willing to pass off as meat) — sellers are out to rip you off as much as they can, and you are trying to get what you want as cheaply as possible.
While haggling is not acceptable everywhere, you will be able to get away with it at most unofficial shopping complexes and street markets.
I have had lots of practice in getting repeatedly ripped off shopping in this city I fondly call home. I now derive some twisted pleasure from haggling ceaselessly with vendors until they give me what I want. I’ve gotten quite good, if I do say so myself. One time quite recently, a vendor chased me around the entire floor of a fake market to get 10 extra kuai off me for a bag I purchased to break even.
Here are some rules I always follow when bartering:
#1 THE 10% RULE
The initial price listed by vendors is usually comically high. Therefore, a good way to begin bargaining is to quote around 10% of the requested price as a starting point. I wouldn’t negotiate much higher than that.
Some vendors are aware of the 10% rule, so they will name a sky high price to get the payment they want. This happened to me at the Pearl Market in Beijing when I was buying a souvenir for my uncle. Determine how much you are willing to shell out for a product and don’t be afraid to go even lower than 10%.
#2 ASK MANY VENDORS FOR THE PRICE OF THE SAME PRODUCT
Self explanatory. You can get an idea of the going price of a product and use it as a starting point for bargaining. You’ll also be able to better identify attempts to charge you ridiculous amounts.
#3 STAND YOUR GROUND AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO ARGUE
Once you have determined what you are willing to pay, stand your ground. A vendor will try to argue with you. Don’t budge and stick to your offer. It’s a dog eat dog world out here in China. Don’t feel bad about paying a low price, because the vendor definitely won’t think twice about overcharging you.
#4 COMPLETE DETACHMENT
After you have lived a period of time in China, you will start to notice that the exact same products are available at numerous vendors. Oftentimes, something that catches your eye can be purchased at dozens of different places in the same building.
Once you have learned this, you can start practicing complete detachment. It is the key to getting the price you want.
#5 WALK AWAY
A tried and true tactic. When vendors refuse to give you the price you want, just walk away. As mentioned above, you will be able to get the same product elsewhere. You will also likely be chased and offered the price you named.
If you aren’t chased, you will know that you’ve reached the lowest price the vendor is willing to go. You can either go back and purchase the product or use it as a starting point for bargaining with other vendors.