Travel Tips: Haggle like a Beijinger
In street markets flooded with aggressive vendors and nonexistent price tags, great deals on souvenirs, local trinkets, and one-off products are ripe for the picking—if shoppers have the patience to haggle for them.
This May BYU Global Business Abroad students took to the streets of Beijing in the last stop on their thirty-day trip around the world, touring international businesses and sampling foreign cultures. There they navigated the world-famous Pearl Market and Silk Market, trying their hands at bargaining. “It’s a lot of fun,” says McKenzi McDonald, a global supply chain student. “A lot of us got into getting the prices down really low. We learn about negotiations in class, and we got to use those skills to get good prices.” Haggling landed McDonald a tailored business suit for a reasonable price.
Next time you find yourself in China, don’t forget these bargain-hunting shared by the study abroad students:
Never take the first offer.
When shoppers show interest in a product, McDonald says, vendors will quote a price in yen by typing it into a calculator—and the initial number, especially for tourists, will be much higher than the product is worth. When buying her suit, McDonald told the vender the price was too high. “She said, ‘Oh no! Give me a real price. What do you want to pay?’” McDonald typed in a price about 80 percent lower. “Then she said, ‘You’re joking! Another price!’ You go back and forth, and eventually I tried to get at least 60 percent or less of the original price.”
If you can’t get the price you want, don’t act too interested in the product—and don’t be afraid to leave, even if the vendor doesn’t call you back. “One lady wanted to charge me the equivalent of $230 for a Chinese game and a pair of chopsticks,” remembers Becca Broderick, an accounting student. “I haggled her down, but I wasn’t super interested in them, so I started to walk away—that’s the best way to haggle.” The woman held Broderick’s arm with surprising force, offering another price. Broderick still insisted she was finished, but the vendor went down to $15—a price Broderick couldn’t walk away from.
Stand your ground and resist the temptation to be overly polite—vendors capitalize on tourists’ people-pleasing perchance to be nice to strangers. “It always starts the same,” Broderick says. “They say, ‘Just for you! I will give you a special discount.’ Then they give you an abnormally high price.” The venders can be aggressive themselves—like the woman who grabbed Broderick’s arm and called her “crazy lady” as she held out for a lower price. “If they call you names, you have a sense that you are getting a relatively fair price,” she laughs.