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From HK Archives: Shop 'Til You Drop
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I was in for a real treat when relatives asked us to join them for a day shopping of shopping in Shenzhen, China. It was not at all what I expected. Living in Causeway Bay, I thought living in the middle of meter upon meter of shopping centers and boutique shops was overwhelming. It did not compare to the sheer density and hustling going on at Shenzhen that day.

“The tea is good, but not great. I would pay $150 for a quarter kilo for each tea.”
“It’s a special tea from very special tea regions of China. $200 for both teas and I’ll throw in some rosehips.”
“No there are six of us who want to buy. We’re firm.”

The sales assistant starts to ponder the offer. We put our bags of tea down on the chair and begin to walk out. The sales assistant begins to casually tug the lead negotiator’s arm and have her return to her seat. We walk back to our seats.

“$175 is all I can offer. We will loose money with such a discount.”
“Ok then.”

Shenzhen has the special designation as a Special Economic Region of China. Just at the border of New Territories and "mainland" China it's a quick one hour train ride from Kowloon. With that designation many people flock to Shenzhen in the hopes of carving out new lives in retail and factory production businesses. The Lo Wu Shopping Mall is full of people from all walks of life hurriedly making sales transactions, trying to catch your attention to look over their wares, and shoppers window shopping. You can get many things here such as beauty care products, household products, custom made suites, or indulge in day-long pampering at the massage parlors. Many of the goods are inexpensive replicas, over-runs from production factories, or outlet merchandise with minor defects. It’s pretty easy to wander around and buy goods at face-value; however the real fun in shopping at Shenzhen is the opportunity to bargain.

We happened upon a tea expert in his shop with his sales assistant. He hurriedly assembled his tea cups and began to boil some water as we started to ask many questions about the types and grades of tea available. The store was lined with tall glass jars filled with a variety of teas.

Each of us had the opportunity to sample the bitter hot tea that became very sweet at the back of your tongue. The tea expert then began to pour many more varieties. I wanted to sit there all day and just sample all of them knowing full well that the taste of each of those little treasures of caffeine would probably keep me up all night. One by one, each of us expressed an interest in purchasing the sampled tea. But we settle on two of the teas we selected. As the assistant started to calculate the weight, the price was quoted and the bargaining began.

Here are a few pointers from what I experienced during the negotiations:

• Know your goods. Do a little research on the comparable goods’ prices.

In some cases vendors selling the same product are in the same area, but you may have to wander a few floors to investigate what the typical going rate is for the item in question.

• Be serious about your purchase. Show interest in the product. Assess any flaws or shortcomings of the product. This information helps during the negotiating process.

• Don’t offer a price until they give you a price. What they tell you might be lower than the displayed price.

• Offer half or some price that you feel would be fair market value. I’ve heard about good bargains that began at less than half the initial price quoted.

• Show disinterest if the counter offer is not reasonable to you, there will be occasional retorts for the price negotiations. At this point both sides will give rational for their price, such as flaws or the seller will retort about the superior quality and exclusive origin of the tea.

• Be ready to leave if the storekeeper is not engaging in the bargaining courtship. They will try to bring you back into the store with a lower price point if it’s worth their while to finish a sale.

I believe that since we were bargaining collectively for the same teas that we were able to get a reasonable price. I wonder if we could have received the same negotiation experience if we spoke in English. I probably missed out on lots of the minor nuances of the negotiations since I don’t understand cantonese. Perhaps next time I’ll try my hand at bargaining. If anything I was just fascinated with everything to see. Shopping in Shenzhen is definitely an adventure for those who love to get great bargains.

Since this trip was just on a whim with J's aunties we had to scramble to get a visa since it's just over the official border.

Posted on March 30, 2006 07:06 PM