China: Shopping

Everything in China is negotiable.

Bargaining is a little time-consuming and sometimes troublesome, so be fully prepared is very necessary. Bargaining is expected inmost Chinese stores, except in the supermarket or some shopping malls in which the goods have clear fixed prices and the staff is not allowed to grant discretionary markdowns.

Rule #1: Learn a few catch Chinese phrases:
Nothing opens the door for you like a Ni hao ma?, (How are you?) or a Duo shao qian?, (How much?). Nothing is bought or sold without the large format calculator. Whole transactions can be wordless as you hand the calculator back and forth. But opening with some Chinese will ease you up to the bargaining table and will put a smile on the vendor’s face.
Rule #2: Start at a fraction of the asking price:
Deciding how low to begin your side of the bargaining depends on what you’re shopping for. Typically, if shopping for inexpensive items, I’ll go 35-80%. For example, a porcelain tea cup should probably be about 25rmb (US$ 3). If the seller asks for 90rmb, I’ll offer 15rmb and work up from there. If the item is very expensive, it’s better to start lower, say 10% of the asking price, so you have more room to maneuver.
Rule #3: Practice a little on inexpensive items:
Before you have your heart set on something, practice bargaining a little for something to which you are less attached and can therefore walk away if need be. Small inexpensive items like fans and chopsticks can all be good things to buy for souvenirs. Warm up a little before you get into the higher ticket items.
Rule #4: Take your time:
Being in a rush is the bane of the bargainer’s existence. Time is not on your side: the vendor has all the time in the world, he can sell his trinket tomorrow. You are on a plane tomorrow morning and you’ve left yourself an hour to do your shopping.  If you can, take time and don’t be rushed. If the seller isn’t coming down on the item you want, walk away and peruse other stalls. You might find it cheaper elsewhere and you can use the price to drive the other vendor down.
Rule #5: Decide how much you’re willing to spend on an item:
A good way to defend yourself against the shopping demons that force you to pay too much for stuff you didn’t really want is to decide as you look at something what it’s worth to you. With everything I pick up, I say to myself “I’d pay $XX for this.” This helps me focus my bargaining and when the price goes over what I want to pay, then I walk away…
Rule #6: Use the Walk Away:
I love the Walk Away and I find it usually works quite well. After you reach an impasse and the price is still too high, I give my final offer and walk away slowly but looking pointedly at other items. Usually I’m called back. Sometimes I’m not and I have to live with the disappointment or put my tail between my legs and go back to pay a higher price.
Rule #7: Don’t feel sorry for the seller:
Vendors love to play like you’ve ruined their day with your hard bargaining. You’ll hear “Now my child won’t have any dinner“.  The vendor is making a profit, don’t worry. They are not going to sell you anything out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s a game and it’s fun to play. So play right back and say something like “Yes, but now I can’t afford to have any dinner either!”
Rule #8: Be careful with your belongings:
Crowded markets are a pick-pocket’s haven. If you can, divide your cash up in several places (front pockets, money belt, wallet, purse).

Bargaining in electronics markets is slightly different.  Prices generally have only a fluctuation of about 15%.

Be warned, the word “antique” can apply to things made last year.Be warned… China is notorious for fakes, forgeries and counterfeits.  Counterfeiting is now so big from a manufacturing point, officials are reluctant to shut it down completely, since it provides millions of badly needed jobs.

REMINDER:  Remember that your bargaining might be stalled at a 10 rmb difference – so remember what this is in US currency, and decide how much you want it.  Are you willing to walk away for the sake of $1.30?

Great Buys in China…

Some items are particularly terrific buys in China, and should be considered in your shopping lists:

  • Get clothes tailored (suits, shirts, jackets, tuxedo, dresses, etc.. etc..) – I have a terrific tailor that speaks English in Shanghai, and there are many tailors who will welcome your business.
  • Green Laser pointers – in China they are military spec or greater, high powered, and incredibly cheap.
  • Mao memorabilia – kitsch retooled for export – mostly in Beijing.
  • Silk products – scarves
  • Pearls – Starting from ¥180 for a string of high quality 8.5mm-9.5mm cultured pearls – remember to ask for real silver clasps and a gift box. Note, unstrung pearls have no duty in the US, strung pearls do.
  • Small electronics  (but NOT cameras – they are all from Japan)
  • Mobile Phones – amazing prices, incredible prices, work worldwide.
  • Bags – suitcases, backpacks, wallets, purses, etc.. etc…

1 in every 3 pairs of socks you have were made in the district of Datang in Zhuji, China, now known as “Sock City”.

Counting on one hand when shpppingCounting in Chinese on One Hand

The Chinese use one hand to indicate the numbers from one to ten, this is very useful when you cannot speak Chinese language or you shopping in a market and bargaining.

Price Guide

Shanghai Shopping

You can bargain for most anything in China. From shoes and bananas to hotel room prices. I’ve bargained for taxi rides, internet access and drinking water. All made for tourist souvenirs should be bargained hard.  When quoting a price, you can expect people to get as much as they think you think it’s worth. Foreigners are susceptible to paying too much as they don’t realize how low prices really are in China. You need to have a realistic idea in your head what something is worth – in China.

Bargaining is a friendly, social art. Don’t feel bad or shy about stating your price. Also never feel bad you might be going to low. Sometimes it’s necessary to counter an offer of 800 with 50 or 75 in order to settle on 110.  If a local Chinese is buying what you want, watch the transaction of cash and see how much is paid.  There are a few bargaining tactics you need to be aware of.

  • Often what you want is sold at more than one stall in the area you are shopping. Ask prices and bargain at several before buying.
  • You can always go back. Leave if it’s not going your way or you want to compare prices. The shopkeeper has a sudden price drop upon your departure. Even if not, you can return to bargain more or settle on their offer.
  • Shopkeepers may look annoyed if you bargain hard, but either
    (1) they are annoyed they cannot profit greatly from you,
    (2) looking annoyed is part of their bargaining act or
    (3) they were annoyed when you arrived.
  • Never feel bad about having bargained so hard and feeling like you’ve cheated someone, no matter how much it may seem so. They will never sell you something at a loss!

Here are some market prices based on recent purchases:

  • Scarves (Burberry etc..) go for ¥80-120
  • Shirts (fake) by Lacoste/Ralph Lauren/Polo ¥30-40 RMB
  • A pair of dress socks (like playboy ones) are ¥4RMB
  • Traditional Dressing Gown – ¥50 RMB
  • Cushion Covers ¥15 RMB
  • Belt around ¥20 RMB add ¥10 RMB for a big buckle
  • Cultured Pearls 8-9mm slightly off round strands each around ¥170 RMB (depending on quality)
  • Chopsticks go from ¥0.2RMB for wooden ones to ¥10RMB for fake jade ones – average ~¥20 RMB.
  • Marble and Jade Rock Balls ¥2RMB-5RMB.
  • The large sized Chinese painting copy for ¥30-40 RMB
  • Handpainted silk scroll w/wood roll/porcelain ¥80 RMB
  • Handpainted silk scroll without roll ¥20 RMB
  • Small Rosewood prayer beads on long string ¥30-50RMB each
  • Large Rosewood prayer beads on short string ¥20-30RMB each
  • Gift Boxes – small ¥5-10RMB each
  • Gift Boxes – large ¥20-30 RMB each
  • Silk Wine Bottle Covers (dresses and suits) – ¥10RMB each
  • Silk Wine Bottle Covers with Hats – ¥15RMB each
  • Silk coin purses, lipstick containers, mirrors- ¥5-10 RMB
  • Silk purses – same design as above – ¥25RMB
  • Generic Watch (doesn’t matter which) for ¥15 RMB.
  • Rolex/Cartier/Gucci etc.. battery fake for ¥60-80 RMB
  • Rolex/Cartier/Gucci etc.. automatic fake for ¥160 RMB
  • Swiss Army Knife – ¥12-15 RMB
  • Webcams about ¥50 RMB
  • Bottle water ¥2RMB (add ¥1RMB for cold).
  • Bottle pop ¥3RMB(add ¥1RMB for cold).

Online Shopping

Shopping sites I use regularly…

Taobao
anything & everything. handles more e-commerce than Amazon and eBay combined. About 423 million on-line shoppers.
NATIONAL
Tmall
the sister of TaoBao above, same owner, tight integration between the 2 sites, but generally, less fakes.
NATIONAL
YiHaoDian
focus on grocery both China, Korean and Western, but sells everything.
NATIONAL
JD JingDong
focus on electronics, pretty much everything is real.
NATIONAL
ePerMarket SH
grocery delivery of western style.
SHANGHAI
Kate & Kimi
western style grocery & fresh meals delivery
SHANGHAI
Fields
grocery including fresh food.
SHANGHAI
CityShop
grocery
SHANGHAI

Basic Translation

How much is this? 多少钱? [duōshǎo qián?]

Too Expensive 太贵了 [Tai Gui Le]

Do you have anything that is less expensive? 您有便宜点的吗? [nín yǒu piányí diǎn de ma?]

I’m just browsing. 我随便看看。 [wǒ suíbiàn kàn kàn.]

May I have the receipt, please? 可以给我收据吗? [kěyǐ gěi wǒ shōujù ma?]

I’ll give you _[amount]_ for this. 我出__[金额数目]__钱。 [wǒ chū__[jīn’é shùmù]__qián.]

That’s way too expensive! 这个也太贵了。 [zhège yě tài guìle.]

_[amount]_ is my final offer! __[金额数目]__,这是我能给的最高价。 [__[jīn’é shùmù]__, zhè shì wǒ néng gěi de zuìgāo jià.]

Then I’m not interested. 那么我就不买了。 [nàme wǒ jiù bú mǎile.]

Then I will go somewhere else. 我去别的地方看看。 [wǒ qù bié dì dìfāng kàn kàn.]

I can’t afford it! 我买不起! [wǒ mǎi bù qǐ!]

That’s more than I can really afford but I’ll take it. 其实我根本负担不起,但是我还是会买。 [qíshí wǒ gēnběn fùdān bù qǐ, dànshì wǒ háishì huì mǎi.]