One of my favorite things to do during my time in China is walking through small shops looking at cute trinkets. I remember my first time going to one of these shops–I was so excited and bought a bunch of really cute scarves for what I thought was a pretty good deal. It was only after I got home and called my aunt that I realized how much I’d been ripped off. The lesson I learned: Always try cutting the price down, especially in small shops.
For those of you who have never tried bargaining before, there’s an unsaid set of rules that you should try when bargaining. First, keep in mind if you can’t speak Chinese without an accent, the vendors will know that you’re foreign and therefore hike up the price. Starting out, as a rule of thumb, cut the price in half, making sure it’s slightly lower than how much you are willing to pay. Don’t be surprised when the vendors start venting to you about how ridiculous your offer is and how they won’t make money. That is rarely the case. I usually repeat my offer a few times until the vendor gives a return offer. When this happens, don’t give in too easily. Repeat your original offer. If the price is still too high, start walking away. At this point, if the vendor tries to keep you by making a return offer, it means that your initial offer is still in the range of what he or she is willing to accept. If he or she does not try to keep you, realize that your price may be actually too low.
Ideally, if you know what you want before going out, go online (to websites like taobao.com) to find around how much this thing costs. Knowing how much things cost will be very useful in figuring out about how much you should bargain for. This, however, is rarely the case. If you’re in a market and see something you like, try not to buy it from the first vendor you see. Bargain with this vendor and note their lowest price. Most likely at places like the pearl market you’ll find multiple vendors selling the same thing. After bargaining a couple of times, you’ll figure out where you can get the best offer!
When I went to the pearl market, I saw a couple of times when the bargaining got really intense. I found the process a bit intimidating at first, especially when the vendor got really emotional about how she wasn’t going to make money. But over time, I actually learned to enjoy the process. It’s not like anything I’ve seen living in the United States.