Extreme Bargaining in China

Bargaining in China is an expected part of your shopping experience.  While I have visited other cultures, they did not seem as extreme as what I experienced in China.  So be prepared for a very unique experience.  We had a few minutes at the famous Pearl Market in Beijing to do some shopping.  There were many stores offering “high-quality reproduction” handbags and sneakers.  I was not really interested in shopping much as I was on a very tight budget, but I did watch some of our fellow travelers make deals.

We did see some building block sets (think Lego) that were very interesting.  There were sets that haven’t been made by Lego and not in their licensing.  There was one particular set that caught my son’s eye.  It was a book built of Lego and when you opened it, there were probably 40 or so Iron Man minifigures.  My son really likes to collect minifigs and customize them so this was right up his alley even if they weren’t legit Lego.  We had a quick discussion and decided that they weren’t in the budget and we didn’t have enough room in our luggage to get it home (besides the questionable quality of building blocks that aren’t actually Lego).  Just for the fun of it though, I asked the price to see how it compared to a Lego set at home.  I don’t remember the exact price, but it was about 1900 CNY (about $275 US dollars).  I really was just curious and did not want to haggle as we were not trying to carry this thing around all day.  I thought I’d throw the salesperson off and told her we were only able to spend 200 CNY….so no, thank you.  She lowered the price to 1000, then 800, then just for us she would do 500.  I kept trying to be polite and tell her we weren’t interested, then she said she’d give it to us for 250.  As we were walking away, I heard her say 150 (about $22 USD).  I don’t know the exact exchange rates for all those numbers, but that was a HUGE drop in price.  I don’t think the ladies with the purses were that extreme, but it gave me a new strategy for bargaining.  I throw out the lowest low-ball offer possible and see where they land.  As an online seller, this just goes against my morals, but I found that it was near impossible to find a reasonable price otherwise.

Some of our friends purchased other items.  I saw them literally being dragged across the aisle to a different stand.  And if you let them put a hand on your arm to direct you, watch out!  They would not let go.  In general, the store attendants will pull out a calculator and show you a price and often calculate the US dollar conversion.  These calculations rarely were the same as my conversion app on my phone.   Of course, they always let you know that you can use your credit card.  One friend was giving advice to another and the lady thought she was convincing her to not buy the handbag, so she shooed the first friend out of the area.  Of course, when we all got on the bus and compared prices some of us had gotten great deals while others were taken advantage of.  I generally keep my head down and walk quickly in these kinds of shopping malls, but that doesn’t work in China.  The salespeople would still approach very aggressively.  While I did buy a few souvenir items from a quieter salesperson, I felt like it was a battle to leave the store.  My son and I gave up quickly and went to sit out on the front steps while our group reassembled.  This kind of shopping is not for me!

Some stores are not into bargaining.  Typically, they have the prices clearly marked on the shelves or on the products themselves.  If you see price tags, then it is probably safe to say that the store does not typically haggle over their prices.  You might still ask for a slight discount at the register (especially if you buy a number of items), but generally, the price is what is marked.  I much prefer these stores.

This being said, the tour arranged with the VIPKid Field Trip is not really a tour that accommodates shopping.  There were a few occasions that we were given a certain amount of free time and we could find shopping opportunities if we wanted.  Many of the travelers arranged shopping time in the evenings on their own.

Tipping in China

For the most part, gratuity is not accepted in China.  Our tour guide explained to us that she had seen Americans leave a tip at the lunch table, and the waiter chased them down the street to give back their money.  It is not culturally acceptable to give a tip for service.  If you had amazing service, you might tell your server that you would like to give him or her something extra, but don’t be surprised if they refuse it.  During our trip, we arranged a massage.  The price of the massage had already included a generous tip.  I also noticed that when taking taxis, the drivers did not give me back the correct change.  Therefore, I just took that “mistake” as their tip.  I did not have the language skills to make sure I got the correct change, and it was usually an amount that I would have considered a good tip.

If you are going on one of the VIPKid Field Trips, you will have a tip that you will need to budget for the tour guides and the bus driver.  You will get information about this before you leave.  (Ours was about 450 CNY  which is around $65 US.)  We had one person that was chosen to collect all the tips from the travelers and divide them out to the tour guides and the drivers.  Just be prepared as this is an “extra” budget item you will need.