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SHOPPING AT LUOHU: SURVIVAL TIPS

For newcomers, the Luohu Commercial Centre can be overwhelming noisy, crowded and filled with touts bothering you. However most of the people calling out to you are just looking for a sale. They won't persist if you ignore them. It helps to focus on your shopping list and go to a few places for what you are looking for.

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All floors have many different kinds of shops and the best way to see what is available is to walk around. Watch your wallet and bag, particularly at the metro station and just outside the Centre.

1. Ignore all touts and calls to attract your attention.

Luohu has the worst and most persistent touts in all Shenzhen. They will even follow you up escalators pushing pieces of paper in front of your eyes. Missie Missie, Bossie Bossie, DVD? Golf? ? Do what the Chinese do. Just look straight ahead and do not engage the person in conversation. If you're well brought up you'll find this difficult but otherwise, by the end of your visit you'll be exhausted. If you find yourself having to reply to someone, be very firm but pleasant saying No.

2. DEAL AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE WITH ONE SHOP OWNER.

Going from shop to shop very briefly and asking the starting price is not likely to get you to a good price. Shopkeepers usually have many visitors passing though their shops and are unconcerned about people who walk into the shop for a minute or so and then walk out. Pick a shop and engage the staff in conversation, asking the prices. If you don't like the staff's attitude or stock, move on but try to find one shop that you can deal with.

3. Allow time for bargaining.

The process of bargaining and finalizing a price takes time. There is no way around this. Try to stay good-humoured and be polite about the stock. You have different rules of behaviour from the shopkeepers and being impolite or rude may appear far more offensive to them than you intend and is generally unnecessary.

4. The theatre of bargaining.

The process of bargaining has its own conventions. The seller offers a price, the buyer looks shocked and offers much less, the seller points to the good qualities of the product and refuses to lower the price, the buyer restates the offer price, the seller lowers a the offer price a little and so it goes on until one party walks away or both agree. All this can be conducted quite pleasantly and with a few smiles or jokes to keep the mood light.

5. Ask for “good quality.

The best quality goods are rarely displayed. The stock displayed gives an idea of styles available but often better quality products can be fetched on request. Many shops source the same stock. Some shops, for example those selling Japanese-style fashion handbags, may be specialized and only have one kind of stock but many other shops can obtain stock similar to something seen in another shop's window if you ask them.

There are sometimes as many as five grades of quality for one item, with shui huo being the top quality. Other expressions for quality are A quality, Super A and Five Star quality.

If you are looking for leather, always ask if something is real leather. Zhen pi Often the goods on display are not real leather, although they are good fashion items and many people will not notice the difference.

6. Be aware of the price range for what you are seeking.

Prices at Luohu are famous for ranging all over the place. The initial asking price may be absurdly high for something, but persist and don't walk away. You may have just been quoted the first-time visitor price which is the shopkeeper's most optimistic estimate of what someone will pay. If you have not dealt with this shopkeeper before, just start by offering one quarter of the first price.

Generally you will be able to relate the price of a product to what you would pay in your home country for something similar. Handbags of excellent quality, A quality, will sell for roughly the price you would pay for a good leather no-name handbag in your own country, although the Luohu one may resemble a designer brand. Non-leather fashion handbags, B quality, are about a quarter of the price of A quality handbags.

The numbers of visitors, exchange rates, the day of the week and the time of the year affect the general price level at Luohu. Mondays and other weekdays are quieter and generally have cheaper prices available than on weekends. Before Chinese New Year, when shopkeepers need savings to return to their hometowns, prices are often lower than at other times.

There's no hard and fast rule but we've found that most retailers' prices start at about twice what they're prepared to accept. If you get to 60% of the asking price then you're in the range and you've done OK. But don't waste your time if they are absolutely determined not to reduce. Sometimes they start where they intend to finish. In these cases try to get a 5 to 10% discount tell them that your face is involved and you just want a little. They will often react well to this.

By the time you have invested time in bargaining, so has the shopkeeper and they will be more motivated to reduce the price.

Some people bargain extremely mercilessly and occasionally get a ridiculously low price. Remember that there are two sides to the transaction. We're ashamed to admit that sometimes we've bargained too hard only to discover that the product that we finally got was the broken one in the back of the shop that the shopkeeper had lost any hope of selling. Be warned.

7. Complete one transaction at a time.

Keep in mind what you are looking for and when you are happy with something, pay for it before going on to look at other products. Shopkeepers may try to get you to buy several items at a time, confusing the issue of price per item, and making it more difficult for you to keep track of what you are spending.

Some customers browse the catalogues and select a long list of items, without first asking the price. They then get a shock when presented with the total bill, even as the shopkeeper says I give you good friend price.

Once you have agreed a price for one item, it is best to pay for it at once and then go on to selecting other items.

The exception to this is if you are buying a quantity of one item and think you should get a quantity discount. In this case, you should complete the price bargaining when you have finished selecting all the products you would like to buy. However you may have to walk away from this transaction when you have already spent quite a long time examining goods.

Generally, once you have completed bargaining and agreed to a price, you should keep to that price. It is not good etiquette to agree buy an item at a certain price, then later ask for a further discount, whatever the reason. You are free to walk away at any point but once you agree to something, the process should be concluded. This also means that you should think very carefully before you actually agree to buy something and, if it helps, you can leave the shop for a while to think the matter over.

8. For services, be very wary of “add ons.

If you are having a manicure or other service, establish before you agree to the price that this will be the final price. It is common practice for beauty salons at Luohu to attract customers with very cheap prices and then option up the price by offering special oils or creams or pretending to find something wrong with your nails that needs an expensive treatment. You have to be firm on the price you agreed to or, better still, ask the staff to write it down before you go in.

9. Do not feel that you can be detained in a shop until you buy something.

Yes, there are some real crooks around and beware of them. Occasionally some unscrupulous shopkeepers may try to block the door of a shop by standing in it or make you feel you should not leave. Do not under any circumstances tolerate this firmly make your way out and, if you feel threatened, say you will report them to the police. Law and order is well maintained within the Centre and any threatening behaviour is just bluff. There is a phone number prominently displayed in the main atrium to ring if you need police assistance. Don't hesitate to use it.

We caution against going to warehouses outside the Centre for designer handbags or anything else, as you may come under pressure to buy and it is better to stay in the Centre and have staff bring goods to you.

10. Finally, a frequent question is, “What's the best time for bargains? ?

A Chinese tradition is to pay all your debts before Chinese New Year. In years gone by, if people could not pay all their debts before the New Year they would sell their assets to raise the money. Luohu shopkeepers still respect Chinese traditions and the week before Chinese New Year is the time to get the best prices.

Luohu Commercial Centre closes for Chinese New Year. This is often the only time the tailors from Shanghai go back to their family in Shanghai. The shop girls, the boys who deliver from warehouses, the big brother who stands outside the shop and Auntie who minds the family's baby all go back to their hometowns, so once a year peace descends on the Luohu Commercial Centre.

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