It takes a certain personality type to be a master haggler, and I think after an excursion to the Silk Street shopping center, it can be said that Alec embodies all of those necessary traits: talkative, confident, and above all, absolutely shameless.
The rest of us watch as he takes on his Russian accent and commences negotiating, 120 yuan for a silk tie? No no no, 25 yuan. At first, we can’t help but laugh at his theatrics, but as he succeeds time after time in obtaining his target price, we were all more than just a little impressed. While I personally didn’t attempt to buy anything at the market, I watched as he took the American, Australian, and Danish delegations under his wing and do the talking for all of their desired purchases.
The market culture is an odd one. Even after visiting such shopping centers multiple times with my relatives over the years, I still can’t acclimate to the aggressive nature of the interactions between shopkeepers and the shoppers. With the fluidity and the arbitrary nature of pricing in markets, it seems like all parties involved are trying to maintain an impossible balance. The shopkeeper is attempting to make the greatest profit possible, but he/she must be willing to yield to haggling just enough to retain customers. The customer, often with limited knowledge of the actual margin on the product, must try to obtain the lowest price possible without driving the bargain too close to the actual manufacture price—at this point, the haggling will stalemate, and oftentimes, the shopkeeper will refuse to sell at all.
As I continue to make rounds in the market, milling about with the throngs of negotiating people, I figure that I’m probably better off nurturing my online shopping habits instead.