Beijing Travel diaries

Shopping and bargaining tips in Beijing

Most people I know see Beijing as a destination for shopping. The tours to Beijing will bring you to several bazaars, factories and galleries to feast you eyes on. Note that these are NOT shopping malls. The sales people in these places can get very pushy and at times, very ruthless. So, I thought it’s a good idea to write a post on shopping in Beijing, especially when you’re going to go on a tour.

I previously mentioned that all tour groups in Malaysia are linked with the Chinese government- to do business and providing these packages, tour agencies need to follow requirements set by the government. Most of the shops you’re going to visit are all owned and “recommended” by the government.

So here are what you need to know prior to visiting bazaars in Beijing, especially dedicated to those who loathe or aren’t used to bargaining, like me!

Don’t let them know you’ve just arrived
When they ask, even in the most polite English you’ve ever heard, do not- let me repeat- DO NOT reveal that you’ve just arrived. If you do, they’ll know that you’re a noob at bargaining with a Chinese and that Beijing is totally alien to you.

Look smug, look confident and say that it’s your fourth time in Beijing or something.

If you’re not really interested in something, don’t be bothered
One day I was admiring this pretty silk scroll. I shouldn’t have touched it! The seller asked me for my price and I refused, but she took out a calculator and told me to “insert” my price. I did, figuring it was low and thinking I could refuse later, anyway.

WRONG. She kept on pushing the price up and telling me that she’d run out of business if she sold the scroll at that price (never believe this!). I resisted. Seeing that I didn’t want it anyway, the seller sort of forced me into buying it by immediately packing up the scroll and told me she’d sell it at my price. Maybe it was cheap, but it wasn’t something I needed.

So ever since that incident, I never pointed to anything nor touched anything. I’d browse, but if I didn’t like anything, I’d walk away.

Don’t believe what they say
When you try to bargain, bargain the lowest price possible (but please make sure your price makes sense, RM1 for a dress is too much ok). Even if they say that their cost price is this and that, never buy their words. From my experience, the cost price for the clothes sold at the bazaars are probably less than RM5, bags and shoes less than RM10. Keep them below RM50.

By the way, a girl who spoke good English dared to tell me this one obviously PVC bag was made of leather. They don’t have much knowledge. All the MAC, Tiffany, Chanel and Dior you’ll be seeing in the bazaars are REAL to their eyes.

“D&G” and “MaxMara” in Beijing. They print labels and stick them to whatever they want, I think.

Stick to your price
Don’t budge. EVER. There’s this girl who wanted to sell a pink cheongsam dress to my mom at RMB425 (RM213). She must be joking right? I got the SAME cheongsam top the day before (same quality, fabric, supplier I am 100% sure) at RMB50 (RM25).

I told the girl:

“No, yesterday I got this at RMB50 only. It’s too expensive”

“But this one, different quality, different color, you see”


“Okay, okay I give you RMB250. Cheapest, very cheap, very cheap”

There was no I way I would give in! This leads to the next point…

Walk away
When you want something and you’ve bargained, but they still refuse to sell it at that price. Just walk away! They’ll come running back to you with the price you’ve offered, or curse at you (shrug it off when this happens). Any way, you could always go to a different seller. They basically sell the same things there. These sellers are VERY afraid of losing you to their competitors.

Back to the story of the story of the pink cheongsam dress.

When they refuse to give your price, look confident, don’t look bothered. Just move, move! Like my mom and I did that time.

And the girl screamed that she’d sell it to us at RMB180.

We didn’t go back. Walked straight. Until…

“OK! OK! I sell you this RMB50!”

VICTORY. So we finally got the dress RMB50 from ridiculous RMB450. That’s paying 1/9 yo! Imagine how much they actually mark up the prices.

Oh, don’t be surprised if you see Gucci or GAP dresses sold for RMB800 (RM400). I’d skip the store. Even if you bargain and succeed in getting it for RMB100 (not really possible, girls in stores selling “Gucci”, “Dior” or even “Topshop” can get pretty snobby), it’s still got a fake label stuck onto it. Not worth the price you’re paying at all!

Different nationalities, different prices
There was a nice lady who was selling paintings who offered me an initial price of RMB800 for a large painting. A white couple came by and asked the price for a similar one. This seller keyed in RMB1080 on her calculator and showed it to them. She thought I couldn’t see HAHA. So there, proof!

Now, be thankful for being an Asian.

Speaking of competitors, when you can’t get the price you wanted, go to a similar competitor and tell the seller that someone else offered you a lower price. It works!

Or you could always say it’s your final day in Beijing and all you’ve got left is RMB30 (RM15). See if they’d sell a bag to you at that price!

They can be vicious
Apart from being rude and pushy. Don’t be surprised if a seller screams at you or pull your clothes because you walked away. Happened to my mom. The offender? A girl much younger than me. An elder lady who was on the tour with us was also cursed at, when these girls found out she could understand Mandarin.

Some of them may be extra, extra nice, but don’t be surprised when their overall voice tone changes or when they refuse to even look at you one your transaction is completed!

Moving street vendors. Like the nut-seller who stalked us from one place to another on a single day that I blogged about previously.

Oh, this may not cover bazaar shopping, but be careful with street vendors. Those who follow you everytime you get down from the tour buses. They might sell things cheap, BUT they’re known for giving counterfeit changes. If you’re that tempted to buy, provide exact change!

So those are basically things I’ve learned on shopping at Beijing during my five-day trip. Just so you know, friends tell me that it’s worse in Shanghai. Sellers are far more cunning and they know several languages. So be extra wary.

Until then. I’ll be posting more pictures of Beijing later!

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  • Avatar
    June 14, 2010 at 8:59 PM

    I am never going to Beijing,after reading this post. I hate bargaining.

  • Avatar
    June 15, 2010 at 12:03 AM

    Me, too, haha! But I guess there’s always something to learn when visiting new places 🙂

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