The Chinese are masters of negotiating.  It’s because they have to do it everyday.  Americans in general probably do it once every 3-5 years when they have to buy a car.  And even then, it’s getting easier now with all the information on the Internet.  In China, almost everything  except for groceries and restaurants are negotiable.  So, it’s like buying a used car every time that you want to get some pants, shoes, camera, etc..

In the U.S., you just look up almost any product on Amazon, and can get a decent feel for what something is worth.  For the advanced, there are sites like pricewatch and  In China, there is no such thing.  So, when I went off to buy a digital camera last week, it was a very different experience. 

I find that I do well in negotiation situations when I really don’t need something… like another pair of tennis shoes… However, I really needed a digital camera, because my wife’s just suddenly broke down and started making unnatural noises.  We considered just ordering one to my mom’s house, then having her ship it to China, but it would cost between $20-$30 extra and take at least 3 weeks.  I figured, we’re better off trying to find something here.

The first thing that I noticed was that there is no good place to find a good baseline price.  There are several websites, but I am told that the prices on there are all higher than they should be, and when you go to the electronics market, you can usually negotiate the prices down.  So, I went.

I did a little preparation by looking up 3 different cameras on cnet and amazon for reviews and pricing.  The electronics market is row after row of stores that apparently sell the same things.  There’s a floor of digital cameras, a floor of computers, a floor of accessories, a floor of computer parts, etc, etc.   Then if you don’t like anything from the one of the hundreds of stores in that building, you can walk down the street to another building with another 6 floors of electronics stores.

After some strolling around the aisles, I finally went into a store and started looking at the Samsung L210 which was one of the cameras I was interested in.  (Also note that the same cameras in China are labeled differently than in the US.)  A man came over and asked me something, so I asked him how much the camera was.  He gave what seemed like a reasonable answer (20%-30% above what I’d pay at Amazon.)  so I asked if I could see it.  He pulled it out for me, but I noticed it didn’t have a battery.  He explained this to me with some pantomiming than motioned for me to follow him.  I followed him to an elevator where we had to cram in with an incredible number of people.  The buzzer started going off and the door wouldn’t close.. Everything started yelling at each other until a few people in the front started stepping off one by one.  Then the door closed and I was taken up to the 10th floor.  There I was taken to an office.  This was the used car sales office of digital cameras.  There was a nice sofa.  The guy gave me a cup of water to drink.  He then got 3 different cameras, and got some batteries and let me play with them.  After playing with the Samsung, I quickly found that the video feature was horrible.  It was clearly stuttering.  The other two cameras I did not recognize, so I asked if he also had a Canon IXUS80.  (In the US, it is called the SD1100.)  He brought over the camera, along with 2 others, then handed me over to another guy who looked much more confident.  He seemed like the wheeler and dealer.  The pro.  (Uh-oh).  I looked at all three cameras carefully, because I didn’t want to give away that I really wanted to IXUS80.  I asked for the prices on all of them.  The IXUS80 was 1350, which was surprisingly low.  It was about $200 .  On Amazon, I saw it for $150.  When you add tax and shipping it’s probably about $180 or so…. Then I’d have to consider the cost to ship it to China as well as the wait.  So, $200 sounded definitely in my range. 

However, the dance was not yet finished.  I could probably shave a bit off of that price, I thought.  But, as I was planning my next move, the pro looked at me, pointed at the Canon and said, “Bu Hao”  (It’s bad…)  Then he took a picture of my hairline and showed it to me… He, then, brought over a Nikon and took a picture of my hair line.   The Nikon CLEARLY looked better.  Sharper, more depth of color, etc… So, I asked, “How much”?  He first said “seven thousand something… “He lost me after the seven thousand… That’s $1000+..  I told him, “Tai Gui le!”  Too expensive… and he said, “How much do you want to pay?” 

Clearly he misunderstood… I didn’t mean that’s too expensive for that camera… But, that’s just too much camera for me… It could be  half off, and it’s still be too expensive.  I just told him, “Tai tai tai tai Gui le”…

Then, I just cut to the chase… 1250 RMB for the Canon.  He said, “no”.  I stood up, said “ok, thank you…”  And started for the door.  Hoping that they would grab me by the arm and renegotiate the price….  No arm grabbing took place…

My heart sank… now I have to do this stupid dance with another store… So, I went back downstairs to the 2nd floor and tried to find another store.  At least now I know which camera I wanted.  I went to several stores and pointed out the camera I wanted.  Almost each one tried to play the switcheroo on me… and grabbed other cameras that they tried to pitch to me… This is also a car salesman tactic.  You want to sell your customer a product that they know the least information about.  Likely they have studied out one or two of the products and have an idea of what it’s really worth.  But, if you can get them hooked on a product that they know nothing about, there’s a lot of room for profit…

Ends up that in 3 other stores, I got all kinds of wacky prices that ranged from 1600 RMB to 1900 RMB.  I’ve probably spent more than 2 hours now trying to find a camera.  It was almost time for me to go to get to my Chinese lesson.  I did not want to walk out of this building without a camera.  I was in desperation mode, and the price for which I would pay for a Canon IXUS80 seemed to be rising. 

Fortunately, I found a place where the starting price was 1400 RMB.  I told them 1300 thinking I’d be able to justify walking out of the first place, if I could get 1300.  He came down to 1380.  I started walking out wondering if I could really find another place… Then the salesman grabbed my arm and asked me to punch in a price on the calculator.  Whew… I got a motivated one…. I reluctantly punched in 1350, and he said ok.  He made a phone call, and it took about 15 minutes for the camera to come.  I paid the 1350, and I was out of there.  I probably could have done that without spending the extra hour, but without good pricing information, it’s really difficult to figure out if you’re getting a reasonable deal or not. 

I think my strategy going forward is just to let them know that I’m going to look around, but I’ll be back.  That way, no one feels bad, I can always come back if I can’t find a better deal….

I’ll admit though… it’s pretty draining…

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