How to bargain like a Beijinger

By Erin Zureick
Updated: 2007-05-30 14:26

Walking into Beijing's famous discount shopping bazaar, Silk Street, the eye is immediately overwhelmed with possibilities.

Designer names and colorful fabrics catch your eye as tourists and Beijing residents alike weave in and out among the maze of aisles and pass chatty shopkeepers in search of one thing: the best bargain.

Silk Street, which is located in the city's Chaoyang District averages crowds of 20,000 patrons on weekdays and up to 50,000 on the weekend. It can be an intimidating environment for those new to bargaining.

But tucked among the center's more than 1,700 vendors and seven floors of goods, savvy shoppers can find the best deals if they're willing to be patient, persistent and, most importantly, be a hard bargainer.

One woman called Sheila is a native of Calgary, Canada. She visits Silk Street several times a year. She said the most important thing to keep in mind while seeking a bargain is to have fun.

"I think everyone here has a good sense of humor," she said as her shopping partner joked with a shopkeeper about a jacket he had just bought.

Whether you're a veteran bargainer or just starting out, here are a few tips that can help you get the best deal.

Keep your eye on the prize. One of the first things that will surprise foreign shoppers is the persistence of Chinese shopkeepers. While milling about you'll be peppered with comments such as, "I give you a good price" and "Come and take a look." Some shopkeepers will even grab your arm and try to stop you. But don't waste your time. There's too much to see and do, so keep plowing through the aisles until you come across something you really want.

Take your time. Once you've found an item you like, don't look too eager. Examine the product for any possible scratches or any problems with the stitching on the fabric. Don't just assume the quality is good. This also shows the shopkeeper that you won't be a pushover. Shop staff will start the negotiations with an exorbitant price. Then you can counter back with a figure that is lower than you think you can get, and try to stay as close to that price for as long as possible.

Speak Chinese. Most shopkeepers know some basic English, but it's always nice to bargain in their native tongue. No one expects you to become a native Chinese speaker out of the blue, but here are a few simple phrases that could make your life easier.
Tai gui le (Tai gway luh) - Too expensive.
Bu yao (boo yow) - Don't want.
Zui hou (zway ho) - Last. Use this to signal this is your final offer for the item.

Walk away. If you've reached an impasse during your bargaining and it doesn't look like either of you will budge, just walk away. Tell the shopkeeper sorry and then walk down the aisle. More often than not they will come after you or call you back to the stall with a cheaper price. Be reluctant about coming back, and make sure to negotiate for a price on your terms. If the shopkeeper is a little annoyed at you when you make your transaction, you've probably gotten a good deal.

Relax. This last piece of advice might seem self evident, but remember to have fun. Bargaining takes practice, so don't stress out if you don't get the price you want the first time around. The more you bargain, the better you'll get.


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