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Hong Kong's hardest street vendors go soft and teach us how to bargain
How to wear them down, why early birds get the best deals and how not to insult the city's cantankerous vendors
Many hard lessons on how to bargain are learned at Hong Kong's notorious Ladies' Market.
In Mong Kok on Tung Choi Street, with the main sections south of Argyle Street, the Ladies' Market is known for the city's toughest vendors.
That's why when the veteran vendors teach us how to bargain for the best price on sneakers, trinkets, handbags and just about anything else, we sit up and pay attention.
Herewith, from the Hong Kong shopping masters themselves: how to beat the hagglers at their own game.
Attitude is everything. When you’re more pleasant, we are.
1. Take advantage of local superstition, aka "fat see"
When thinking about how to bargain, remember that many vendors will go soft on customers early in the morning.
"Everyone knows quick sales in the morning brings good business for the rest of the day," says Ms. Ma, who has sold tapestries at the Ladies’ Market for 30 years. "That’s the idea of ‘fat see’ (meaning 'prosperous market')."
“There are fewer people in the morning, so you’re more likely to get a discount,” agrees Ms. Mei, stoic seller of defective designer wear on Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok.
“I can’t give discounts in the afternoon when the store is flooded with people. Once you do, everyone else will want one.”
2. Be ethnic
“It’s industry standard in Hong Kong to do business by race,” admits Mr. Lee, who sells Chinese crafts at the Ladies’ Market.
“The highest-paying customers are the Japanese. The lowest are the Pakistanis, so we'll usually give them the best prices. We fix our price according to their purchasing power. When I see a Japanese guy, this trinket that I usually sell for HK$10, I’ll say it’s worth HK$30."
“For gweilos, I’ll price items in the mid-range, because a lot of gweilos are smarter now," adds another vendor Mr. Wong who is willing to teach us how to bargain. "The Japanese haggle, too, but their budget is higher than other people's. That’s because things in Japan are more expensive than elsewhere!”
"We tend to be more honest about pricing with locals," admits Ms. Ma. “Foreigners usually have to return to their countries, whereas locals can always come back and complain if they’re not satisfied."
3. You're not a tough guy, so don't act like one
"Bargainers who offer an insultingly low price get shooed off," says Ms. Ma.
“Attitude is everything. When you’re more pleasant, we are. Someone came in this morning and told me, ‘Your $45-painting is worth 10.’ I was so insulted that I snapped back, ‘You mean in Euros?’ No deal there.”
4. Play the victim card
“If you’re more dramatic, saying ‘I’m only a poor student’ or that sort of thing, and we usually give in easier,” is another tip on how to bargain from Ms. Ma.
5. Hammer at the defects … until they get sick of you
“We’ll have to cut the price if a customer keeps on insisting it’s a tear in the fabric,” says Ms. Mei.
"If they keep going until the vendors get sick of them, we give in. Vendors usually give in with a 20 percent discount after you go at it for 15 minutes."
6. Buy in bulk and get a free meal
“The more you buy, the bigger the discount," says gemstone vendor Mr. Lam, stating the obvious for the final tip on how to bargain.
But Mr. Lee, who sells Chinese memorabilia, adds that bulk markdowns can often be larger than many people realize.
“You can get up to a 50 percent discount if you buy in bulks of 10 to 20. With that money, you could probably buy yourself a meal."
Originally published September 2009, updated May 2012.
Have any tips on how to bargain? Share your foolproof tricks in the comments box below.