For many of us in the West, there isn't much art in shopping. You choose an item you like, the price is displayed prominently, and you pay exactly that price. There is no sport involved at all.
But in many countries across the globe, the initial price given is not the price at all. It's a dare, an invitation to partake in the ancient folly of bartering.
I recently travelled to Beijing and had an opportunity to sharpen my shopping skills. I was lucky enough to see some iconic and breathtaking sights including the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, and Tiananmen Square. China is an exciting and complex country that could easily offer you one hundred different vacation experiences -- but even if you just go for the shopping, it's worth the air miles.
Beijing offers a variety of different shopping experiences, ranging from small market stalls to multiplex designer shopping centres. I shopped at Silk Street, where individual merchants had been given little squares to tout their wares in an indoor bazaar.
If you are new to the bartering process, here are some tips to help you lose your haggling virginity:
Compare and conquer
Have a good look around the store or market first to do a little comparison shopping. Having a good idea of the going rate for the item you want to buy gives you the upper hand.
Correct change only
Ensure that you have the appropriate change and that it's stored in a separate section of your bag or wallet. You don't want to haggle down to 1 yuan and then ask for change from a 10.
Currency and conversion
Make sure you understand the currency and the conversion rate, there's no point in haggling a price down to an unknown variable. A currency exchange app like XE can be super helpful for quick calculations.
太贵了。, Muy Caro, बहुत महंगा
Learn a little of the local language: "Yes", "no", "too expensive", "please", and "thank you" should serve you well for most transactions.
Be a math whiz
Make sure your math skills are sharp or bring a calculator, most merchants will try to change the quantity of your purchase rather than the price. So be sure you have a clear indication of the correct price per unit.
Be prepared to walk away, there is bound to be another store or stall selling the same item elsewhere.
Bartering is a lost art here in the west and its part of the fun of shopping overseas, so treat it as such.
Stay legal and check the paperwork
Make sure you are aware of any rules prohibiting or limiting the sale of the goods you are purchasing. Check US Customs and Border Protection for a list of items to avoid.
It’s meant for a good time, not a long time
Quality will be lower than you're used to at home, so don't spend more than you can afford on anything. Have the mentality that the item may break or deteriorate once you are home.
Involve a friend or travelling companion, they can play the disinterested partner who can shrug at their "outrageous" price, encourage you to walk away and generally get into the whole theatrics of the sell.