Street Shopping & Bargaining In China

There is a global standard placed on tourists: they always pay a premium price for goods and services. In China, this rule is taken to the extreme, especially for Westerners. It is as if they have a target painted on their backs that say “I HAVE MONEY!” when quite often, the opposite is true.

This should not deter you from all the shopping opportunities in China. To a tourist, shopping is just as important as visiting Beijing or the Great Wall of China. Where else are you supposed to get souvenirs to bring home that will tell the tale of your visit to China?

Generally, all shoppers fit into four categories. This is how the shop owners see everyone. You are a local who speaks the local dialect, a Chinese person from out of town, a foreigner who speaks Chinese fluently, or an alien whodoes not know a lick of Chinese. This is how shop owners judge people. The locals, of course, get the best deal, while the foreigner who cannot speak Chinese will pay a premium price for whatever is being sold.

Tourists spend more money; however, the prices in China fluctuate based on some very unfair rules. These rules include appearance, language command, accent, gender, race or color of skin, and other social skills.

Tourists are much more likely to be scammed by street artists who do not get caught because it is your word against theirs, assuming you catch them in time. The most common scam they run is when you overpay for an item, expecting to receive change. They give you change, but one or two of the banknotes they give back to you will be fake. Even if you catch it in time, they will turn around and say you are trying to scam them! It will be your word against theirs. Before you put away ANY money given to you as change, count it back in front of them. This allows you to get a feel for the counterfeit money, and it is clearly separate from your ownwallet when you catch them in the act.

In China, you will be expected to barter and bargain. That is just part of the packaged deal of traveling to China. However, because this is not how business is conducted in western countries, this can make foreigners feel uncomfortable. Reasons include language barriers, embarrassment, trying to lower an already cheap price or merely not knowing what to offer.

Give yourself some leverage by being watchful at first. Get a grasp of the average price of an item you may want by seeing if anyone else has it for sale and making a mental note of the posted price and comparing. Keep your emotions out of the sale. Appearances can be deceiving; the street vendor is not poor. Instead, keep an apathetic attitude with your poker game face on. Vendors will shove items in your face. Show as much disinterest as you can by shrugging it off. They will read your face and follow your eyes. If you appear remotely interested in something, they will go for the kill. Don’t let fear take over. When the vendor is aware that you know the value of something, they will make comments, such as how cheap you are being. Shrug them off; they are not personal. They want your business. You get one shot to negotiate a good price. If you leave and come back, you just gave all the power to the street vendor. He knows you compared prices, yet you still came back for something he was offering that no one else was.