Bargain Culture

“Aight here’s the plan: DJ, don’t have more than 700 Yuan in your wallet. We’re going to stroll in, and Ima tell him that we found a gym that’s charging 700 Yuan but is much closer to our dorms which is why we want an extra 50 Yuan discount. Shanel, I need you to randomly ask how much it costs. Just give him some hope that we might be bringing some more customers, that way he’ll be more inclined to give us an extra discount. Also, DJ… just don’t say anything! Got it?”

My roommate inquires as he lays out a course of action to bargain. Nicky is assertive when it comes to bargaining and I’m just a novice. Until recently I thought that I understood the whole bargaining system, but the extent to which Chinese citizens bargain is unbelievable; my roommate, however, seems to have mastered the skills effectively. And with them, I watched in (contained) amazement as the gym membership prices dwindled from 900 to 700 to 650 yuan (元) for the entire three months. Directly after my roommate’s demonstration of effective bargaining, I began to practice those skills (as if tenants) to buy a Burberry jacket at what I shall call the “Name Brand Store”. As all of this transpired, the following questions fluttered to my mind: Are these products even real and either just redistributed or just stolen? If so, is this why the prices are super inflated with extreme flexibility? If not, what can I conclude about their quality?

The Name Brand Store

While I tried to reason with the sales associate over the relatively expensive price of this Burberry jacket (less than $100), Shanel tried desperately to reduce the price of 4 pairs of Tom’s to even less. I think what fascinated me most was watching the strategized discourse manifest between buyer and seller, comprised of sellers’ calculated shouts of intimate terms (friend, buddy, 很 帅) and buyers’ premeditated walkout with feigned frustration. In my case, the seller chased me outside the store to buy the jacket, after settling for two-thirds of the initial price and slapping me a couple of times. It seems that prices are overinflated because the perception is that Westerners are willing to pay for expensive names, even though it appears to me that those products were impeccable knock-offs (I know, ironic). Nonetlesless, there are other sentiments among our group. “Me and my roommate concluded everything is real,” Shanel started. “It’s probably just stolen…” So what am I bargaining for? Authenticity?

The concern for authenticity in this consumer world is ludicrous, self-contradictory, and yet astute in identifying our (Western) skewed association with brand and function. In short, we would rather pay the “extra” for the famed name associated with the product despite its function and/or quality. Although seemingly real, my inauthentic “Beats” are great headphones, with outstanding quality and surprising durability. Plus, Nicky bargained them to half the price ($60 to $30) of the knockoff and maybe more off the original brand. The only implication that they are inauthentic is a small typo on the prepackaging, which is so passible it’s basically real. If they are indeed fake, then it seems that Chinese producers go to extreme lengths to replicate every minute detail. This possibility resurges my concern for quality over famed name, and further leads me to conclude that a) the effort they place in replicating the products almost ensures genuine quality and b) even though the will prices are inflated, I can bargain down to almost the production cost.


Price is another big concern and it causes me to question if the locals are being offered deflated prices, if they have to bargain also, or if they are even being targeted at all. The Name Brand store seems to attract many foreigners with a poster that lists all of the brands present in stock, even eebok (Reebok?). On the flip side, there was an equal influx of Han browsing in the sections. Since the merchandise is apparently real (but stolen), it will appeal and entice Chinese locals – another means to continue this path to both modernity and cosmopolitanism. Plus, I will assume that they are being offered the same prices. But since bargaining is such an intricate part of Chinese culture, I will likewise assume that they are ideal bargainers. Conversely, street vendors who encouraged me to purchase those Beats knockoffs, may not be as appealing.

I feel that bargaining, an inherent aspect of Chinese culture, is vanishing and overshadowed by Globalization and Consumerism. Albeit not discussed often, the rise of multinational corporations (MNC’s) and other franchises fuel this Chinese desire liberate oneself, to be “relieved of the burdens of home, history, and tradition…” (Chinese Religious Life). In this liberation process, traditional businesses and market techniques (i.e. bargaining) become marginalized, maybe even ostracized by society. I’ve even noticed that it’s impossible to bargain at the Wanda marketplace (my favorite); I just wonder if Chinese bargaining will cease completely as the society continues to commercialize…

Still, I guess that I can and must take advantage of bargaining in my time here. I’ve only been here approximately a month and despite my recent success, I am still a novice at it. Although my findings are not empirical, my experiences taught me the following: a) this is foremost a business, b) drop all naiveté or ye be scammed, c) be unrelenting and resilient, and d) never settle until satisfied. With these guidelines, bargaining is a lot more effective and successful. I know for a fact, I will be schlepping Western merchandise from China to the States, whether fake or not – and of course after having bargained for them first.