Wednesday, June 6, 2012

China: The Art of Negotiation

To Negotiate: To try to reach an agreement or compromise by discussion with others

Here in the US, it seems like we only truly negotiate in big corporate deals or at the flea market. There's no middle ground at all. The closest we come to that is places like Ebay where we flat out offer how much we're willing to pay for things and let a system do the work for us to get up to that point (Though if you ask me, it's looking more and more like Amazon every day but not nearly as nice). Oh, and of course, if we bulk buy we often get a discount(God, I love Amazon's subscription plans on my gluten free component!). Our legal system even gets in on a little of the action with plea bargaining and fun things like that. *grin* but why is that? Why is it so limited?

Negotiation? Says who? Mine!

In China, almost everything is up for negotiation. Admittedly, they have places like Silk Alley, the Pearl Alley, and the Yuyuan Market that are as a tourist attraction but everywhere we went except for the big box chains seemed to be open to negotiation. On our first night, A got his little sister a present at a store that looked like it might have been a little chain store but when we didn't want to pay the price a aisle associate offered us and we turned away to keep looking, knowing we could find it cheaper elsewhere, she began bargaining hard. It was a classy looking store with aisles and stickers and everything. By the end of the trip, we found a few general rules for figuring out what was negotiable and what was not as well as the rules for negotiation.

  1. If the price is stamped on a tag, there's a pretty good chance it's negotiable unless it's a big box store such as RT mart, Walmart, Carrefour, etc. But usually those stores have electronic tags just like here. I thought I'd taken a picture of one, but I didn't and I can't even find one on the internet. Usually, the tags are green with a red price stamp in the center. All prices are in yuan.
  2. If the person nearest the item you're looking at has a calculator. This is a near 100% proof positive that they're willing to negotiate.
  3. Person on the street trying to sell you something. Including street vendor stalls except for food (most of the time)? NEGOTIABLE! (big exception to this rule is food markets where you get raw ingredients. There you can negotiate! a nice sized package of Saffron,  even bigger package of Sichuan pepper (Szechuan pepper), gobi berries, 4 jasmine bloom tea buds all for $100 yuan total or $15 USD....hehehehe)
  4. If you start to walk away and they stop you, yell towards you, or grab you, it's negotiable.
  5. If they ask you how many you want to buy.
  6. Sometimes they'll just flat out say that they'll give you a good price. It's not the best price, but it's better than the price they put on the tags. Hehehe. So they're not....lying persa. XD
  7. Medical supplies and restaurants are not usually negotiable except for huge parties and even then you do need to be able to speak the language or be a native.
  8. Just because it's high end doesn't mean it's not up for negotiation, you just have to work it more carefully and don't attempt unless you actually know what you're looking at.
  9. If they start out by telling you how you are their first customer of the day and need you to open their store.
  10. Tell them you can't afford it and they lower the price immediately.
Now for the 'rules' of actual negotiation in China. First rule is there are no rules. Ancient Chinese saying "If there is a rule, there is a way around it".

1. If you want a good deal, you have to work for it. Patience and time to get the best deals.

2.  Use a little Mandarin to butter the wheel and deal.
Ni Hao (Knee How) Hello
Ni Hao Ma (Knee How ma) How are you?
Dwor Show Chyen (Doo war show Chi yen) How much is it?
Tai Guile (Too Guy lure) Too expensive
Xie Xie(Shay Shay) Thank you
Bu yao (Boo Yow) No thanks

3. Be friendly and smile. Don't get angry with them no matter what. You can get into serious trouble. You're the outsider. If you think they're offering you crazy prices, tell them so, but do it with a smile.

4. Whatever price they give you, start at around 10% of that for your first price for tourist style goods such as table runners, chopsticks, supposed cloisonne items,  'silk' pajamas, tea sets, purses, luggage etc. Start at 15-20% of more unique items like paintings, figurines, things you -know- are of good material or workmanship. (And don't go over there thinking you can spot a fake in a second, they are scary good at copying brands, logos, trademarks and such.) Fake Cloisonne bracelets should run you about $1 USD. I'll go into some info about Cloisonne and explain the fakes and real thing next week probably.

Blue/Silver Reversible Kung Fu Shirt 3/$45 USD
5. Never pay more than 40% of the original price quote. EVER. Ideally, most of the time, your price should fall  between 25-35% of that first price quote and if you're getting multiples of something (Doesn't matter how many, even 2 should get you a discount) no more than 25% of the original quote. I got A and two other of the important men in my life these magnificent Kung fu jackets/shirts/whatever. 3 of them cost me 200 yuan. Or about $30 USD. That's total. Not each. And each one is reversible, so it's like I got six of them. Could I have gotten them for cheaper? Maybe, but I considered it a deal plus it was lunch time and we were late. The total price is about what I would have paid for just one of them here.

And the original price quote for 1? 950 yuan.

6. Walk away. If they seem to only be slowly inching down in price. Like they say 1000, you say 100, and then they only go down to 980? Walk away. They will stop you, yell at you or even grab you. But this only works in the beginning. They will grab you. Remember, you have no personal space in China. It does not exist. I've seen them try and cram 10 people in a 5x5 elevator before. Unfortunately, I was also in it already. >_<

7.  Other tactic they will try is asking you to give them your best price. You can do this a few times, but this gives them a chance to call you crazy or to give some pity story about how they need to eat/their boss will never forgive them/etc. Just start to walk away, and they'll start lowering again. I like to tell them that I'm a student (which was true) and that I don't want to give them a bad price if I'm in a "I-could-take-it-or-leave-it-mode". That usually got me some GREAT prices pretty quickly. Which, of course, meant I ended up buying. ^_^;;

Chinese Tea Set for 6 and 2 rice bowls for $15 USD
8. Go to a stall just a few feet away and look at their stuff. This works best on not busy days so they can see you milling about and make them think that you want it and they just need to go down a bit more. We got this gorgeous tea set down from 850 yuan to 80 through this tactic. Just started poking at other stores where they sold similar stuff that he could see us at. We got him down to 125 before we left first. But as he gave us the 80 he'd been refusing, I asked him to keep the change from the 100 yuan bill I'd given him if he'd throw in the two pretty rice bowls I'd liked. He did it without question or arguement at all so I know he was still doing okay. So we got the set and two rice bowls for 100 yuan total or about $15 USD and they are gorgeous.

9. Show me the money! If you show them the money, they will also be likely to bring the price down. So make sure you have bills of various denominations and that they are hidden in multiple pockets. (I have a backpack purse that I wear on my front with hidden pockets in the back, the middle and front of the purse, but this way it also won't get ripped off). But be careful, some of them will grab your money and not give it back. You can do a few things with even this if they do. If its a small amount, like less than you're willing to pay for the item. Tell them, either give me the item for that much or give me my money back, they'll almost always give you the item for that much. They can get in major trouble for theft (thought not as much if you're a tourist). A got his nice new silk robe through this method while I was busy with another deal and didn't notice. They like playing but they will have no issues taking your money, which leads me to 'rule' 10.

10. PLAY THE GAME! They will take your money if you give it to them, but they do enjoy playing the game. As long as they are smiling, they are still making some profit. We had a member of our group get kicked out of stalls before, but he still got his deals. I don't play like that. I go in with a price I think is reasonable and then one that I'm possibly willing to go up to based on unique factors and I NEVER let them go above that. If I think it's worth $10 USD, that's all I'm willing to pay. Even if I know I could get them down to $5 USD, I have to decide if it's worth my time to do so. I was very happy with the prices I got for the kung fu shirts, so even though the lady was still smiling when I left, I don't mind giving her a bit more profit. I still got a deal for me. Don't forget to say Xie Xie with a smile when you leave. It's always good to leave good feelings wherever you go. Never know when you'll need to come back.


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