Paying the Price

I had my first chance to do some serious bargain shopping at the Silk Market in Beijing this past week. I had bargained for little knick-knacks before from the many tourist destinations we visited, but this was the first time I had intended to buy actual clothing items for myself. We entered the Silk Market during mid-afternoon on a Sunday, and the isles were packed. I was immediately bombarded with scenes of local Chinese people bargaining loudly with salespeople, little children trying to squeeze by, and a general mass frenzy fueled by the desire for consumption. It was quite intimidating at first, especially when I got to the floor with all of the sneakers on it and I knew that I wanted to buy something. Can you spot me in this picture?

Just walking down the isles can be a challenge, especially when they see that I am a foreign guy who can likely afford, and stupidly fall for, paying a higher price for goods. They constantly shout out, “Hello, my friend, come look, good price, you want some shoes?” I took a few walks around the stalls until I caught a glimpse of some Jordans on one of the displays. I walked into the tiny store stall and the game was on.

The sales woman was very busy, so asked me right away which shoe I wanted. I said I just wanted a look at the Jordans, and I got them from the wall myself. Since the store is so small they have to keep the shoes in separate storage, so as soon as I asked if she had a bigger size she wanted to establish what price I would pay. She said, “This is a very high quality shoe, real leather, very special. I’ll give it to you for a very special price,” and proceeded to get her calculator, punching in the number, “780.” This is roughly $125, about market price for Jordans in the United States. I knew that the shoes I had in my hand were, in fact, not real Jordans, and that there was no way I would be paying that much. I did like the shoes, though, and set my highest price at 150 for a new pair since I saw some scuffs on the ones in my hand.

After a long wait while her assistant fetched my size and she told me I had nice eyes, I saw the new pair. It still had odd marks on the tongue. I said I did not want them anymore, and tried to walk out. The woman, as I expected tried to stop me and asked what my highest price is I said, “80,” about $12. She looked at me in disgust, and let me walk out a bit. Not three steps later I hear in Chinese, “Fine! 100! 100!” I turned back and said loudly over the crowd, “No, 80. 80 is good.” The woman then came out into the crowd and held onto my arm, repeatedly saying, “100, 100.” I tried to move my arm away but she was holding onto me really hard. I did not feel threatended at all, but she was certainly being pretty forceful. A small crowd began to form around us and I was feeling the pressure. I wasn’t going over 80 though. I freed myself and took several steps away, when over the crowd I heard, “FINE! 80!”

What this experience taught me, among other things, is that you pay the price for something no matter what. Though I got the price down, I had to spend a great deal of time and energy in order to purchase it. The challange with bargaining is figuring out how to meet at the margin, where your willingness to pay meets their lowest price. I think I did that successfully here. Especially in light of our readings this week fromĀ Fake Stuff, I found it interesting and exciting to immerse myself in this public-yet-underground world of fake markets. Though I don’t plan on going back there anytime soon!