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China is the type of place where even a shopaholic could get tired of all the different stores to go into. Everywhere you go, people try to coax you into their shop to buy a pair of shoes, some clothes, dvd’s, and pretty much anything else you can think of, making for a pretty entertaining (and sometimes aggravating) jaunt no matter where you end up. There are tons of great items to be bought, but before you get started you must prepare yourself with a steel jaw and an arsenal of bargaining techniques, because these owners will not let their prices go down without a fight.
“You want how much?!”
The first thing you must know when going into these various stores is that most people who run these shops are going to increase the price of their goods substantially over the price they paid. Of course, this is to be expected of any store no matter where you are, but rather than just a sizable markup, here we're talking about quadruple or quintuple the price. And while Best Buy won't let you bargain, in the China markets bargaining is essential. If you are worried about where negotiations are acceptable and where they are not, don't fret. You will likely be able to determine that by simply looking at the type of store it is (chain store or little shop on the corner), or just by offering a lower price and seeing what happens. If they go even slightly lower than their original price, you’re in business.
Laying the Foundation
Once you have decided to purchase an item, the first step is to simply ask the store owner what their price is, so as not to offend them with an immediate suggestion. This will give you a base price from which to start the art that is bargaining. To ask how much something is in Chinese you say, “Duo xiao qian?” When they give you their price (usually on a calculator, because they assume you don’t know Chinese) cut it down by at least 75%, (85% if you are feeling bold). Obviously, they will not accept this price right off the bat, and will likely give a dramatic speech about losing money before countering with a slight drop in their price. If they just shake their head at you and walk away, you've shot laughably low.
Once you get going, you need to be steadfast with the price you have chosen if you want to have any chance of not being taken for a financial rollercoaster. They will give you many faces of dismay and discontent, they might tell you they recognize you and that they are giving you a "friend price", but try to ignore that and focus on the transaction. They will continually drop until they reach what they call their “best price”, and if that is not acceptable and they are not budging you simply need to restate your final price and walk away. When the owner sees you leaving, they will do one of two things: 1. Let you leave and you don’t buy from them (in which case you need to be really ready to walk away from your beloved purse, jeans, watch, or wallet). Or, 2. They will yell with displeasure “Okay Okay… (Your price)”. With these faithful words, congratulations. You've just successfully bargained your way to a fresh copy of The Emperors New Groove. Time is Money
I like to refer to a Chinese proverb: “An inch of time is worth an inch of gold, but it is hard to buy one inch of time with one inch of gold.” I interpret this to mean, your time is worth more than gold could ever be. In the case of bargaining, it is all about how much your time is worth, versus the price you want to pay for the product. If you believe the product is worth the time you need to put in in order to get it, bargain away! If not, cut your losses, say “bu yao” (I don’t want), and get out of there.
Knowing how to successfully bargain is the key saving money in China. If you pay the initial asking price you will be overcharged beyond what you would pay in the US. To toss in another good ol' proverb, “A penny saved is a penny earned” and if you play your cards right, you can save a bundle of them.