Bargaining at Silk Street Market

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Visitors to Beijing will probably all be familiar with the Silk and Pearl Market known as the Silk Street Market. It has six floors of shopping, grouped into types. Towards the very top you’ll find the nice fancy jewelers with precious stones and metals. There’s the electronics floor, filled with phone and tablet accessories, headphones, etc. Then are the softer goods, like blankets, cloth, and clothing. Continuing on down you’ll find purses, wallets, and shoes. Somewhere along the way you’ll encounter luggage stalls too. And of course there are plenty of fun little Chinese trinkets and gift items.

stalls of vendors at silk street market in beijing with glass wallsBargaining at the Silk Street Market is pretty much expected (except for food you eat while there). I went there today with the goal of getting Panda a new wallet (or two) and checking out anything I might want for myself. You can get to the market from subway line number 1 (the red line). Go to exit A and up the escalators to find yourself in one corner of the building that houses the market. I like to start at the top and work my way down, so I strolled through some nicer stalls first. Eventually I made my way down to my real goal on level B1: the purses and wallets. The majority were for women, but I found a stall with mostly men’s leather goods and got to work.

My style of bargaining starts with first seeing how much I actually like what they have. After all, it’s no use to bargain for something I don’t really want and won’t be pleased with. So the stall attendant stares at me while I browse through a ton of their items. If I’m not seeing what I like, I’ll ask them if they have it. In this case, none of the wallets I was looking at had a little pouch for coins, so I asked and one of the ladies went to the back to find me some. She came back with four designs, of which two were to my liking. I asked how they were sold and was told ¥460 for one. Err, what?! That’s about $75!! I mean, I can go to Marshall’s or TJ Maxx and get a nice wallet for less than a third of that price.

men's leather wallets in brown and black from silk street marketThese attendants like to ask you what your price is. I like to go lower than I’d actually want it for to leave some room, and also remain as vague as possible at first. I said I came out only expecting to spend in the 10’s (as in not going into triple-digit territory). I kept looking and when I found blemishes, the attendant cleaned them off. There was one corner that was missing a piece, so she went to get a replacement one, but I didn’t like it as much (no more identical ones left). At these places you can usually get an item for less than 20-25% of the original asking price (often as low as 8-10%). So I figured, maybe I can get both for less than ¥100. I started by saying I only wanted to spend ¥50. She lowered the price into the 200’s. Still not good enough – I thought a bit, looked a bit, and decided I’d go with ¥80 (though I was considering saying ¥60). As she protested, I told her nevermind and walked away. As I walked off, she hollered at me to come back to talk and eventually (about two stalls away), I heard her say ok. I promptly turned around and I got my two wallets for ¥80 total – just $13!! If my mom was there, she could probably get both for ¥50, but alas, I’m still happy with my purchase.

Did I get the best deal? Probably not, but I certainly did pretty well. I think part of it might have been because the attendant could tell I’m a “??” (overseas Chinese). I never actually confirmed with her (once again, remaining vague with these people is usually a good strategy), but she could tell from my mannerisms, presence, and/or skin. She said she had a feeling and that my skin was different (presumably not white enough, since mainland Chinese women like to lighten their skin tone). I’m still amazed at how they know, but those people at the Silk Street Market… they always know. After all that interaction with people, I’m sure they’re excellent at reading us all.

cup of chinese frozen yogurt with fruit toppingsI then continued on to another stall, where I saw another men’s wallet, a women’s wallet clutch, and a toiletry bag I liked. When I tried to get all three for ¥100, the attendant started to put everything back in its place. That’s when I knew I was too low for them to even bother with me. No biggie, I didn’t want or need any of those three items anyway. So I kept going and eventually made my way to another floor to explore. When I came across a frozen yogurt stand, I couldn’t resist. I was thirsty anyway and wanted something refreshing. I got chocolate chips, watermelon, cantaloupe, kiwi, and peach jam drizzle on it. I like the Chinese version of frozen yogurt, which is more tart and dense. Some of the American ones are too sweet and soft for my taste.

silk market and pearl market plastic bagAs I carried my food, I continued on and went through a couple more purse/wallet stalls. In one of the larger ones, I saw some that I liked. They were a material resembling patent leather and had a fun, bold Asian-inspired logo on them. Unfortunately the attendant bargaining with me lost interest after I said ¥50 and she came down to ¥200. I guess I was too low again, so I walked away, hoping to find the design in another stall. I didn’t see it anywhere else and my back had started to hurt, so I decided to come home. I did get the one thing I absolutely wanted from there, but I’m considering asking my mom to go back before she leaves Beijing to get that wallet for me.

Oh, and according to the bag, apparently the three things to do in Beijing are: 1. Climb the Great Wall, 2. Eat Peking duck, and 3. Do shopping at Silk Market. I’ve done them all, so I must be properly acquainted with the city then!

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