When a Deal is Not Always a Deal

There is a study I would like to conduct. It is to “scrape” the asking prices for goods on eBay (with the help of some friendly bots) and somehow poll the buyers with regard to the actual price paid. And then, do the same thing with TaoBao, the eBay equivalent in China.

My hypothesis is that there would be a higher spread in TaoBao. I reckon it is not just a penchant for bargaining, Chinese sellers have to price in the relatively greater likelihood Chinese buyers try to renegotiate the price after the transaction has been agreed but prior to goods changing hands (though bargaining is a competitive, Chinese sport, let's be real). I suppose Chinese sellers and buyers allow each other higher bid/ask spreads because just as there are fake goods hawked by sellers, Chinese buyers are habituated to try to "clawback" money, whether or not goods or services are defective/poor, as a natural defense mechanism.

For the sake of argument, let's call "a deal's a deal" masculine. And all this theatrical, haggling business feminine. In a nutshell, feminine, if we may call it that, has three guidelines: first, taking anything at face value can get you into deep trouble; second, there is always a subtext and you must read into the subtext to really know what is going on; third, you must adjust your behaviour, approach, speech, tone, cadence, to reflect your audience.

Maybe the Chinese haggling approach is feminine, let's call it that for the sake of argument. And what if I characterized this approach as actually grittier? What if I called it tougher than "a deal's a deal." Of course, a "deal's a deal" is steely and unwavering. It is classically masculine in that it doesn't budge. It doesn't suffer fools. You can take it or leave it. You "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me." You just don't bargain with a man 'cos to "nickel and dime" him presupposes he hasn't entered discussions with full and utmost candor.

And surely it is more complex; each transaction has more levels to it, more variables in each exercise of game theory. As brazen as Western business manners can be, the Western belief is “a deal is a deal.” “A deal's a deal” also does comes with pressure. It is “normative” in that it is attempting to socialize you: it is patriarchal, and rather top-down, as it foists expectations upon you to not wiggle (i.e. bargain, or be a pedantic looky-loo, a tire-kicker) AND to not renege once the deal's, well, a deal.

Chinese people worry about reputational risk, surely. But there is less gravity to the notion “a deal is a deal.” There is no tacit bargain that “if everyone bails on a deal, our transaction costs go up hurting everyone (except the lawyers.” The feminine way of trading, if you will, isn't top-down. There is no sense of unifying expectations. You sell me a lot of fake shit? Ok. I'm not going to wait for everyone else to be socialized into better business manners. I'm going to haggle and prod you. I'm going to log everything you say, and keep records on the last half-swindle you performed on me, and barrage you with requests, no demands for discounts, bundle deals, friend-prices, promotions, and freebies, and giveaways.  

Maybe a deal is not always a deal.