'Net Bargaining' Service Booms in China
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When shopping in China, bargaining for a lower price is often unavoidable. But now, online at least, you can outsource that pesky task.
A middleman will -- for a cut of the discount they get you -- bargain on your behalf for lower prices with e-retailers. They are called "net bargainers," and the service is booming amid China's fast-growing online-shopping industry.
A search for "net bargainer" on taobao.com, China's largest online shopping website, gives 2,186 search results.
"I thought 120 yuan (US$17.7) would be a fair price for a pair of shoes priced 150 yuan at an online store. But a net bargainer took half an hour to get me the shoes for 100 yuan," said Wang Huan, a 25-year-old white-collar worker in Hefei City in east China's Anhui Province.
After the deal, she paid the bargaining fee - 20 percent of the 50-yuan price gap - which she thought was "absolutely worth it."
In total, she paid 110 yuan - 100 yuan for the shoes and a 10 yuan bargaining fee.
According to iResearch, China's online payments totaled 576.6 billion yuan in 2009 -- doubling in value for the fifth straight year.
Wu Chen, a university student in east China's Nanjing City, said she was a "net bargainer" during her summer vacation, earning her 3,000 yuan per month.
"It was freelance work. I did it when I had time," she said.
Wu said most of her peers born after 1985 began having online shopping experiences while still in school. They are familiar with online society.
Wang Yu, a white-collar in Beijing, said it takes time and energy to compare prices on the Internet. That is why people are willing to pay for the bargaining service.
Zhang Zhongjie, an owner of a "net bargaining" business, said he was self-employed with the business after he graduated from college in 2008.
"There are many ways to collect price information and bargain with online shops. Net bargainers are a third-party. We help shoppers get the fairest price, and we also bring customers to good shops," said the bargainer, who has business contacts with more than 400 online shops that sell goods from garments, shoes and skin care products to fashion accessories.
Guo Wenlong, a businessman-turned "net bargainer," said he is good at his job because he has direct contact with producers.
The 30-year-old had business experience selling sanitary products. He now offers a bargaining service for those buying building materials via taobao.com.
"I know the goods' factory prices, so I have an edge in negotiation with the sellers," Guo said.
He started his bargaining service last October. He now earns more than 10,000 yuan per month on average.
He said he is older than most of the "net bargainers" he knows.
As an new occupation, there are still some questions concerning "net bargainers."
Lawyer Wang Jun from Anhui Province asked what happens when the buyer ends up with a fake product and what responsibilities bargainers have to buyers? And what if bargainers fail to cut the price?
Wang said the government should start drafting regulations for the new occupation, in order to protect the rights of online customers.
Wang Kaiyu, a sociologist in Anhui, said the new career has created a lot of job opportunities for unemployed college graduates. But it is also important for "net bargainers" to be aware there is not yet any regulation of the profession.
"It is a legal vacuum. The rights of both bargainers and customers are unclear and unprotected," the expert warned.
(Xinhua News Agency September 14, 2010)