|ART OF THE HAGGLE
I don't mean to suggest that all the shopping in Shanghai is for bootleg material, but I personally just find shopping on the grey market to be more interesting, especially since it opens the door for the mother of all Chinese traditions: haggling.
It's not like they've never heard of fixed pricing in Shanghai. Most of the newer, big department stores all have fixed pricing for their wares, but much of the local, smaller vendors throughout the city - including in department stores - have "flexible" pricing depending on what you're willing to negotiate with. Personally, haggling has never been an easy thing for me - I'm not used to it and I'd rather just know a price and make the call but I substantially improved my haggling skills while out here.
I wouldn't say that there's a science to haggling but it certainly is a fascinating psychological process. The way I see it, the seller has to gauge, "ok, what can I take this schmuck for? If he doesn't know what he's doing, maybe I can really get some money off of him." For example, when I was buying some gifts to take home, I'd have one vendor offer it to me for 35Y and then the very next vendor would offer me the exact same item, but for 85Y. In BOTH cases though, I was able to talk them down to 20Y, which was the bottom price that no one was willing to go under, but it's still interesting that there'd be such a wide range of where the pricing begins.
Basically, as the buyer, you have to figure out how you can get the seller to reach their lowest price but with finesse. You can't bludgeon them down to it - it's their items to sell so you have to coax them down which often means that both parties are cutthroat with a smile.
The general rule of thumb is that most vendors are going to try to sell something to you for 200-300% of what they'd actually settle more. That gives you a rough idea of what you might be able to play with. The trick is to always make the seller lower the price rather than countering - if you gamble on countering high, you'll probably end up paying more for the item than what you could have walked away from. In many cases, they'll ask you, "ok, what do you want to pay?" which can be a way to trap you into committing to your own baseline price. You want to turn the tables and make the seller show their hand (yes, it's a lot like poker). If you do counter, you always low-ball but you don't low-ball to the point of being insulting. If someone's trying to sell you a jacket for 150Y, you don't say, "ok, I'll give you 10".
The most powerful bargaining chip you have is to just walk away. Most of the time, if I initially seemed interested in buying something but began to walk away when I felt like the price was too high, the vendor would chase after me and dramatically begin lowering the price - I remember one case where my mom wanted to buy a scarf that they initially quoted at over 100Y and as she walked away, they cut it down to 40Y.
The funny thing here though is that you're really only talking about the difference in, at most, a few dollars. From an American tourist perspective, the difference in 50Y amounts to around $6 and when you're haggling over 10Y, you're basically fighting over $1 in the price. I think a lot of people get off on haggling less because they want that extra $1 and more because they like the game of it all.
The most well-known shopping district in Shanghai runs along Nanjing Lu, which cuts through the center of Puxi horizontally. Most of the buildings on Nanjing Lu date from the 1920s and at night, the entire street is lit up in Neon, not unlike Hong Kong's main shopping district. When you're walking along Nanjing Lu, you really get a sense of how immense and dense Shanghai is - apart from the 3-5 story shops you pass, you also see all the new development that's going up and for the claustrophobic, being in the middle of Nanjing Lu traffic can be a little overwhelming.
Personally, I liked the atmosphere of Nanjing Lu more than the shops themselves (I'm more of an open market stall kind of guy) but I did find one fascinating shop. It caught my eye because the exterior featured a big poster that says S E X. Looking up, I noticed a smaller bronze plaque that read "Adult Shop". The store was tiny - barely bigger than a kiosk inside - but it was interesting to find an adult novelties store in Shanghai, especially given that the sexual revolution came to China about 20-30 years late. In fact, pornographic materials like magazines and videos are still illegal to sell and just a few years ago, illegal to own.
So it came as no small amusement to find a store with an assortment of adult novelties including (as I noted) "rabbit" vibrators (of "Sex and the City Fame") for 380Y, a vibrating vagina for a sizeable Y920 and "Cop Lingerie for Man or Woman" - 118Y. My favorite though was a mysterious bottle of "Infinite Tremdous Procomrl Spray" [sic] that sold for 149Y. Lord knows what it does but anything that says "infinite tremdous" in its name gets my vote.
I noted that most people who came in were there to gawk rather than purchase but it's always good to know that if you need a full-size blow-up doll, there's a store on Nanjing Lu that can provide you with one for a thousand yuan.
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