Earlier in our time in China, I suffered a bit of angst over bargaining. Limited language abilities, my culturally-bound discomfort with challenging the prices offered by by salespeople and my knowledge that proper Chinese etiquette is to bargain made it difficult. Combine all of that with the fact that it is not easy to determine the quality of any merchandise and I was beside myself – it was much easier not to buy anything at all.
These days I am better at speaking Chinese and have had the opportunity to observe my Chinese friends bargaining and had more practice myself. Here is what I have learned:
1. Usually you don’t really need whatever it is and you need to keep that in mind.
2. Ascertain the quality before you ask the price (open it, bend it, pull it, twist it, smell it).
3. Establish for yourself what you are willing to pay – choose a specific number.
4. Ask the price and respond with dismay no matter what.
5. Allow the salesperson to go on describing what good merchandise it is and agree that it is very nice.
6. Say how much you want to pay. I actually say in Chinese “I want to buy this. It is very nice. I want to give you 20 RMB.” I don’t ask. It is a statement of fact. This number is usually the number I came up with in the beginning (e.g. the other day at the fabric market I saw a silk scarf I wanted to buy and determined that I wanted to pay 50 rmb for it. The salesperson quoted me a price of 380. I said that was too expensive. She went on about the quality and then I told her that I agreed with her assessment and I wanted to pay 50. She said she would sell it for 80. I told her that it was nice but I would only give 50. She said that she couldn’t sell it for less than 55. I agreed to the purchase at 55). If they are asking less than I thought, I usually kick their price down by about 20% in a nod to cultural norms but offer little resistance if they don’t want to budge.
7. If they disagree with your price, just walk away. I find that folks usually agree to my price and, if they don’t, chances are they will call me back and maybe ask for a few kuai more than my suggested price. I will usually accept the new price or adjust it by a mere pittance.
In other words, I don’t really bargain. I pick a price and stick with it within a narrow margin unless their price is already lower than my threshold. I find that I get my price 90% of the time and only rarely walk away without a purchase.