Act 4: "I don't see a price tag...?"

Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
Trip End Mar 28, 2010

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Flag of China  , Beijing,
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

No stay in China would be complete without the authentic shopping experience.  By this, I mean a stop at one of the acclaimed markets.  These markets sell clothing, electronics, bags, etc. with all the name-brand products one would expect... or some likeness of them (ok, they're mostly fakes).  I was there this past weekend and learned many things from my observations.

Perhaps the greatest shock to most Westerners is the fact that in the markets the price of anything is not found anywhere.  Of course, the natural reaction is to ask the salesperson then, "How much is this?"  If unprepared, however, one has already made a big mistake in the following ways:
- You reveal your interest in the product.
- You are considering the purchase.
- You have the money.
 - And they know it.
All that's left is for the salesperson to quote a incredibly unreasonable price and hope for the best.  What I'm getting at is, you'd better be ready to bargain at that point or you will be ripped off.
I suppose that I previously underestimated bargaining as an art form.  As one of the guidebooks wrote, some of them do have "Oscar-worthy performances."  Many times, I was convinced that "Wow, this person is really disappointed or angry that I want it cheaper."  Or that, "I really am a wealthy person taking advantage of the poor worker who is 'just trying to make a living'."  They will use every strategy in the book without shame.  
Now clearly these salespeople are not dumb despite their limited English for two reasons.
1.  The Language Effect
- We all know that a lower level of non-native language can be disproportionate to their intellect (with respect to their the native language).  Try speaking a foreign language in which you are not fluent.  Do you feel smarter?  It undermines who you are... you feel like a elementary school child (or to whatever the level of the language it is that you know).  Sometimes I wonder if it works as an advantage though.  If one does not sound as clever, then "hey, maybe I have outsmarted him!"  But, no more than likely, it could have been purchased cheaper.  It is actually quite difficult to know the bottom price.
2.  Practice makes perfect - Unless you are a professional bargainer, they probably have had more practice with talking up the price than you have ever had talking down prices.  In many cultures, this isn't even an option.  With the exception of people in the service business, car salesmen, and other related professions, it is something the modern consumer does not face. And imagine, these people do it everyday with travelers from all around the world.  They learn have every opportunity to improve.

Another question is... how do they get away with it?  Doesn't this go against treating the customer well and ensuring future business?  Well, that's the problem.  They are not concerned with attracting future business.  90% of the wealthier foreigners shopping there do not care to come again.  Foreigners just want to cheap goods now.  And new customers are sure to come to replace those who leave.  So, in turn, the salespeople do not have to worry too much about repeat business.  This, besides the fact that foreigners probably would have trouble distinguishing which Chinese person exactly it was that they argued with. =P

Ok, and all that said now the grand finale... that's why I went with a native Chinese coworkerwho works in Sales. =)  I purchased one tie for about $4.  I think I (or my coworker rather) did pretty well.  In some cases, for something we decided that we didn't want, we walked away from the "angered" salesperson quoting lower and lower (about half of their orignal price) until we were out of earshot.  And I sometimes got the hint of desperation.  It was honestly hilarious to hear the exchange between him and the salespeople.  Tons of insults back and forth.  No one took it personally though which is really the trick.  I must say though, that in Chinese, when bargaining I could hear the just how clever and witty the salespeople were.  They were quick with words, made lots comebacks to my coworker's insults to their product's quality and in the end... actually made me admire them in some ways.   In conclusion, if I were casting for a film looking for new talent, I might just go look for a new pair of N!KE's. =) 
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jetsedder on

@ Amy... yes, you are welcome to visit!
@ kathrinev... good luck w/ the internship. how was work with the union?

Elise on

Edward, my friiiiend!!

Great, you just gave me a shopping in Asia 101 class. I'm heading out to Vietnam in March so I'll practice my Viet insults. ;-) Happy to hear that you're getting to feel the vibe of the city and its people. The best and only way to soak up in the culture (well, that's my opinion at least). Must be a hell of a contrast from Zurich!

Timothy Masters on

A great post. One that should serve many travellers well. We miss you here stateside, but i am vicariously living your latest adventures.

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