Shopping for Great Buys in China…
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?
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…
Some things friends & family tend to enjoy as gifts from China:
1) Scarfs – you can find them cheap, buy a bunch at once for a discount, light and easiest to pack.
2) Tea – go for a round of the traditional black tea or the flowering tea (little balls) which make a good conversation piece, or a tea set gift box..
3) Artwork – there are amazing artists in China and if you look around you don’t have to pay a fortune.
6) Chopsticks – there are some beautiful decorative sets to be had for good prices.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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!”
- 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.
Counting 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.
1 in every 3 pairs of socks you have were made in the district of Datang in Zhuji, China, now known as “Sock City”.