Merchandise markets are abundant in China.. That’s not surprising since it’s a major manufacturing country for many items…especially clothing . So clothing often tends to be the showcase item at markets all across China.
In my travels, I have visited markets in cities such as Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Zhongshan, Gongbei, and Tangjia among many other places. But without a doubt the most aggressive market is found in Beijing.
It’s quite common for merchants to call out to you in Chinese or even hold up their wares as a way of attracting you. But in Beijing they actually grab ahold of you and pull you into their shops. In some cases several people are pulling on your shirt sleeves at the same time. That’s exactly what happened to me in the Silk Market in Beijing. The Silk Market is a decent size complex of seven floors, several basements, and about 1700 dealers. Yes, there IS silk in clothing, scarves, table cloths, and other items. But there’s also just about any kind of clothing you’d want in both Western and Asian style along with all sorts of crafted items, trinkets, toys, and jewelry among many other choices. If you can’t find SOMETHING for someone receiving your gift, they truly are the person who has everything!
Finding something is the easy part…it’s the bargaining part that can be painful. When I first entered the market I witnessed a screaming match between a gentleman from India and a seller. You’d think a crime had taken place. But most people were paying very little attention. That’s because it was just one of many bargaining sessions taking place here all throughout the day. In any of these markets, bargaining is a must because the first price you’re quoted is not the price they expect to get unless they’re extremely lucky. So you can politely laugh in their face at the first figure you hear and they will not be insulted-that’s part of the game.
Another important strategy : never “fall in love” with any item. You have to show that you’re serious enough for them to continue the discussion but firm enough on your purse strings that you’re willing to walk. Sometimes walking out is a good idea because it’s common for a lower price to be shouted out once you’ve departed. That’s your tipoff that there’s still room for negotiating …otherwise they would not be bothered. Another reason not to settle on one item is because usually you have options. Sometimes several shops have the same merchandise. They definitely don’t want to lose out to their competitor. So shopping around first remains important.
That’s what I wanted to do when I first entered the Silk Market. My mission was to find a new raincoat for myself. After my body became part of the human tug of war, I quickly made a few adaptations. I picked up the pace of my walking and quickly walked past the stands with raincoat several times before making my move. The merchants all watch each other carefully. So another stand with raincoats was watching me while I was dealing with their competitor. When I stopped in at the second store, they were immediately tried to land me with a lower price and by immediately helping me try some coats on. Here’s where body language comes into play. I act like I’m interested but on my face I put on an expression that I’m skeptical of their prices and even displeased .That immediately helps drop the price. They sense I’m more than a casual buyer but one who will not be easily swayed either. Playing off the sellers against each other definitely helps at this time.
The only problem is that on this day I was tired and not really in the mood for “let’s make a deal”. Bargaining can be satisfying but also emotionally demanding. I decided to try and see if the low key sympathy approach worked. When the first figure was announced for the raincoat I was interested in, I flashed a sheepish look and said.”I’m sorry but that’s out of my price range”.
So of course she immediately said something like: “Since you’re since a nice man I can give you a really good price”. I countered with “I don’t want to insult you. I know you have a business to support and I cannot give you the price you expect.”Several more figures were thrown my way and I smiled and rejected them all. Finally I thanked her for her time, shook her hand, and acted like I was leaving. So she asked what price I WOULD be willing to pay. I gave her a figure that amounted to $75 American dollars. I thought that was quite low since it was a good quality raincoat. To my surprise, she accepted. I thanked her and we exchanged pleasantries. With her last words she smiled and told me that I was a very good negotiator. She was obviously onto my act but for whatever reason she still was willing to accept.
The level of the sellers’ English skills varies in the silk market. Fortunately everyone has a calculator where they can show you a price and you can easily type in your counter offer. The most important part of this experience is leaving with the feeling that you got a great deal!