Everyone has their own way to try and get good prices when they go shopping on holidays. Some ways work for some people and fail miserably for other people who try them. I live in Guangzhou aka Canton and this is a daily part of life. Not everyone is a street hustler but the majority are born into this way of life in one of the most bustling market economies in the world. The average Chinese youth in much more innocent than someone of the same age from a western country. But what they lack in the way of innocence they more than make up for in the skills needed to make money.
Every purchase in a market or on the street is a negotiation and in order to get the best prices it is important to know that everything is negotiable. I work as a sourcing agent so I spend a lot of time in markets and factories negotiating prices with sellers. Depending on the type of product I adjust the way I get pricing according to what I need or what the sellers reaction is.
In this post I am going to discuss the street sellers and techniques I use when buying small volumes of products for gifts or my personal use.
Chinese street sellers are not as greedy as western shop owners and are happy to make a sale as long as there is a small margin of profit in it. A normal wage for a worker in China might be from 40-70 Chinese Yuan a day. So keeping that in mind it is a good start to buying. Yes they will give you ridiculous prices if they spot you as a mark. Yes if you sound very interested in a product the price will go up. Yes every foreigner is a mark so you do need to get savvy or they will rob you blind. There are some straight sellers out there. They put nice price tags on their goods and stick to this price. But they are in the minority and usually the products they are selling are chinese branded goods or copy socks and underwear like Calvin Klain ( spelt that way on most streets to avoid copyright).
The trick to getting the right price is never seem interested, always look at the quality and say it looks average at best. As an Aussie I like to look at prices offered and compare the prices to what I would expect to pay for the product in Australian dollars then work on the same price in Chinese Yuan. ( Note I would only pay half that if the quality is not good). So as a rule 1AUD = 1 CNY.
I suggest that you know the price you want to pay for an item before you even ask for a price. Then ask the seller what the price is, If the price is actually what you want to pay or cheaper then throw them a counter offer of 50%. ( I do this for giggles and to test reactions). If they swear at you or take the product back and stop talking, then walk away. Usually they will call to you with a counter offer within a few steps if they really want to make a sale. If not you know approximate pricing for the products and can come back later if you really want the item and can’t find it elsewhere.
Never get stuck in lengthy negotiations for a product unless you are just killing time. If you push a seller too hard and waste time haggling they will know you want this item badly and they will not move on the price. In my opinion it is stupid to spend half an hour trying to get what amounts to a $1 discount. ( this is for single item sales on the street or markets, in a factory for wholesale even the smallest amount can make a difference). But time is money so if you want a certain price then find a different seller with the same product and make them an offer.
Another thing to remember is that the usual items that you are buying from street sellers will be counterfeit goods. When I said before to make a comparison between the price you would pay in USD or AUD and the same number in Chinese Yuan I did not mean including the additional cost we pay in western countries for the brand. Look at your mid-range brand prices and work on this being the cost of the goods. Don’t make a comparison between the newest model of Nike t-shirt at 80 USD, look at your K-mart range of acceptable quality t-shirts at 20-30$ and then expect to pay around 30-35RMB at the most for a decent quality shirt. I personally only buy Chinese copy t-shirts of decent quality for 10-20 Chinese Yuan. But I will pay a little more if I like the item, it comes in my size and if the material is of good quality with good stitching. The difference is that I live here and I have time to buy things when I want. When you have limited time then it is important to make the most the opportunities as they come.
You can apply the comparative pricing from dollars to yuan on most items from electronics , handbags, shoes and clothing. High copies will possibly be a little more expensive and will obviously attract a premium. Like with any purchase never let an emotional sale take place. There are so many sellers usually peddling he same goods you can shop around if you do not waste too much time haggling prices with each store. Be firm, be fast and move on if you do not get what you want. Never be rude if you can avoid it, most of these street sellers are just trying to make a living and westerners are often pushing them on the margin they need to stay in business and pay their own expenses. A good sale to me is when both parties are happy, why try to screw someone on price when it is usually 1-2$ difference in our own currency so don’t be cheap!!! If a seller is non -communicative and does not want to talk, then move on fast as these type of sellers will usually not move on price.
Once you know what you want to pay and the seller has negotiated to a point close to what you want. You can try pulling out the money and then throwing them a final price. If this does not get them to agree, put it in your pocket and walk away. The sight of the money appearing then disappearing usually pushed them over the edge and they will come to a compromise just to get a sale.
Remember also that market sellers often work together as teams and purchase the goods together, they will set up multiple stores in the same market selling the same products. If you keep your eyes open you will see them signal the other sellers after they could not make the sale. They will SMS pricing to the next store or hand signal the prices as you walk away while showing the item you were interested in. So expect some level of price fixing when you are moving from stall to stall if they are selling the same products.
Watch what the locals are paying for the same goods. If the seller is pointedly not giving the locals prices while you are close then they have spotted a mark and are probably going to see how high they can push the price. The street market sellers treat most sales as a game. If they can sell a product to an unsuspecting foreigner it gives them bragging right when they sit down for a beer after work. The Cantonese street sellers do not feel embarrassed if they cheat someone. It actually gives them a sense of pride that they outsmarted the slow thinking foreigner with the wallet full of 100 yuan notes.
Try not to take anything to heart and treat your shopping expedition as a game. Most important is to have fun, enjoy the experience of market haggling and try to not get frustrated.