When I first arrived in Beijing, the first thing I bought was a mobile phone 手機 and SIM card. ￥280 or so for it, which was $44 USD. Elizabeth had gone to the same shopkeeper earlier and asked for the cheapest phone possible, and the storekeeper showed her the cheap Nokia black and white phone. When the program bought the same exact phone in bulk for everyone who needed one, they paid about $100 each. My first time getting scammed!
Bargaining 砍價 is fun, and shopping in Beijing has itself been a cultural experience. With the exception of department stores or real malls, in which a cash register is involved, every item is bargainable. In fact, you’re considered a fool (foreigners) if you accept the front price. If you cut the price by less than 30% of the original price, you’re still a fool (me for the first three times).
Famous shopping areas like Silk Street and Xidan 西單 shopping centers are unique: the shopkeepers know how to speak a dozen or two languages on a basic, conversational level. Therefore, they’re able to bargain with people of all origins: some unique languages I witnessed them speak were Kazakhstani, Hindi, Turkish, and some African dialects.
The inside of Silk Market.
The first piece of clothing I bought was a shirt that I didn’t even want. I followed Alex into a booth and started browsing for fun. While he walked out, the lady trapped me and started telling me how good I’d look in them. She was extremely charismatic and said that I should buy it to help her out, and that she was being so good to me. She said I looked like a model and that the shirt complimented my looks. I ended up buying the shirt for ￥55 which is $8.7. Note that it costs them around ￥1-5 each, so she made an absolute fool out of me. I walked out of the store thinking, “What the hell just happened?”
Most shopkeepers have a friendly aura attached to their bargaining, like with the auntie that scammed me with that shirt. Even when I start with a ridiculously low price, they’d laugh and tell me that I had to go at least 4-5 higher than that price. We both know that he/she is ripping me off, so the price goes down rather quickly. It’s all fun and games in the end; if they weren’t making a marginal profit, they wouldn’t have settled for whatever the price was. By the end of the program, most people were able to bargain shirts down to ￥12-20.
Some tricks that I’ve picked up:
- Don’t state my price ceiling for the longest time possible, and instead have them constantly lower their price.
- After some experience and knowing how much they would sell an item for, I’d walk into a booth and immediate name my price. I’d only repeat the price with confident until agree.
- Walk away from shopkeepers if they won’t go down to your price. If they go after you, which they do over half the time, it means that they were okay with the price and were trying to maximize their profits.
- Be super playful or flirty with them. Just like the auntie palyed me, do the same with them.
- Don’t speak any English at all and appear as Chinese as possible. They’ll automatically inflate the price tenfold if you appear as foreigner (whereas shirts are typically ￥80 to￥180 ($13 to $29) starting price for me, Kaitlyn had someone start the price at ￥2000 ($317). Absolutely insane. Most people think that I’m from southern China.
The word “bros” makes up the white animal.
Because I didn’t bring many clothes here, I did a fair share of shopping to help diversify my wardrobe. In the end, I bought four shirts, two sweatshirts, a jacket, and some souvenirs for friends. I felt like a veteran at bargaining in the end – some negotiations lasted no longer than seven seconds with the exact price I had in mind. Oh, how I wish I could do this in American stores!
I’m actually in Taiwan now. I’m very behind on writing about Beijing – I’m trying to speed up frequency of posts but I was busy during finals week, and now I’m having fun with relatives here.