October 22, 2004

Prices and haggling in Shanghai….

I am still amazed about the truth in what the Lonely Planet guide of Shanghai stated.
Haggling is indeed one of the things you have to perform on the streets of Shanghai. Though modern department stores will laugh at you, you can make deals with less rigid stores, like the Huanlong department store opposite Shanghai Central Railway station (not to confuse with Guanlong).
However, if you go to Old Town, you have-to haggle. In fact, they will be insulted if you don’t.
The thing is, when they see a western guy, they will immediately zoom in on him/her. If you have a Chinese companion, they will ignore that person. Also they will double their prices for westerners.
Haggling can be quite tricky if you haven’t done so before. Prices you see may be cheap , especially for the place you come from (e.g. the UK), but you have to remember that for them, those prices are extortionate! You shouldn’t just think ‘what would I like to pay for that?’. You actually have to think ‘If I was Chinese, with an average Chinese salary, what would I want to pay for that?’ Take that number and then offer the retailer 50% of the price you want to pay for it. Effectively you will probably have to offer 10% of the listed price. They will decline but immediately give you 30% reduction. Increase your price just a little bit, only a few yuan, say 5 yuan (depending on the product). They will drop their prices even more, and so on and so forth. You will probably end up paying 30-35% of the listed price. Sometimes, after their first reduction they won’t go lower. Be prepared to walk away. Go to the next shop (that will most likely sell the exact same item). They will almost certainly follow you decreasing their price with every step you make, and they will probably meet your price. Sometimes they won’t but that is the risk. Then again, I’m sure you can get the item in another shop.
Also remember that as long as they decrease their price, they make a profit. And you have to be really hard. Don’t give in to sweet sad looks, they probably still rip you off. You have to haggle for every single penny/yuan/cent, seriously! Also keep in mind that you always have to stay friendly during the whole process. Keep smiling even if they don’t meet your price. Be polite, and don’t insult them, because gone your bargain will be…
Whenever you are interested in an object, and you try to haggle for it, scrutinise the object. Even if it looks good. Try to find every single defect or deficiency and point it out. It will get you another discount extra. Even if the defect seems to be only in your head (like, one chopstick is less shiny than the other, things like that).
When you look at wooden objects, make sure you know something about the wood characteristics, or have someone that knows something about it. You don’t have to be an expert, but even an amateur can distinguish between lacquered pine and mahogany! This is important, because they will claim everything is mahogany. You can notice the difference between high quality hard wood (like mahogany, oak, etc) and pine and other soft woods. First of all, a softwood dents easily. Ofcourse you can’t just try to dent the product and see how easy that is. But you can feel it from the texture. Often softwoods are also a lot lighter (because of the lesser density of the wood), and with hard woods you can distinguish line patterns of the wood much better. You can also see that often, even if it is real mahogany, the object is lacquered, just look for drips and drops. If there is a texture, the paint will be lighter on the higher parts and darker in the lower parts. Anyway, you get the picture…

In the normal shops they don’t always accept credit cards, like the Huanlong department store, near the station. These are small shops in one big building, a bit like a mall. None of these shops accept electronic payments, simply because the facilities have never been installed in the building. You can get good prices there for brand new products, but normally they don’t give you a Tax receipt. If you Do require such a receipt, the price will go up. Reason for this is because they have to buy Tax coupons from the tax office. Obviously this costs them money, which they will reflect in the price. Since these shops are not really market shops like you find on the streets, you can’t haggle, like in Old Town.
If you do more business, you may be able to get some reduction, but in fairness, it won’t be much, and the price you pay, will be good anyway. I did some business buying and selling some camera lenses there, and generally they are like regular camera shops in Holland: They will give you a good deal if you buy something from them, and if you buy more, you can negotiate a nice price, but we are talking pennies here, so don’t push it too much. Also note that you won’t get a warranty with any electronics you buy from this place. But really, if you live on the other side of the world, there is probably little you can do anyway if it breaks down.
Modern department stores, like No. 1 Department store on Nanjing Road (the biggest shopping street in Asia, stretching over 1,5-2 miles…!) will have modern prices: the same as at home. They will provide you with all the (tax) receipts.

More to come soon…

No comments: