How to Bargain Like a Native in China

Bargaining in China is a national pastime. (Image:  wikimedia /  CC0 1.0)
Bargaining in China is a national pastime. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Thirty years of marriage to a Shanghainese-born wife has taught me a few lessons about her culture. One of them is that bargaining in China is a national pastime.

There’s lots of shopping to do in China, but it’s important to be prepared by understanding how to find the best prices for the goods you want. When shopping in China, most retailers, except for department stores and up-scale shopping malls, will be prepared to bargain.

Aside from knowing where to go and what to shop for, make sure your bargaining skills are equally up to snuff, or you may end up paying far more than you should have. Regardless of the market or situation, here are some tips to help you get the best price on all your goods.

Bring your poker face

Rule number one of bargaining: Never act like you absolutely must have the item. Salesmen worldwide love customers that are excited about a product — it means they can price it much higher. Play it cool — if you see something you really want, keep a straight face and act like you’d rather walk away than pay a fortune, and you’ll get a much better price.

Assume its fake

If you find a good deal on high-end brands, they are probably fake. Given that genuine designer goods tend to be more expensive in China than elsewhere, it is best to leave such purchases for your return home.

Rule number one of bargaining: never act like you absolutely must have the item. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Rule number one of bargaining: Never act like you absolutely must have the item. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Start low… really low

Depending on the market, the starting price could be 7 or 8 times what it should be. Keep this in mind when you throw out your first price. You can always go up from there, but you can’t go back down.

Shop around

See something you like? Walk around and see if other stands have it. That way, if you can’t get the price you want, you can always walk away and try a different stand.

See something you like? Walk around and see if other stands have it. (Image: torbakhopper via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

See something you like? Walk around and see if other stands have it. (Image: torbakhopper via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Observe other people

If someone else is buying the same thing for a reasonable price, tell the seller you want the same price. Sometimes you can avoid the back-and-forth routine altogether!

Be firm, but polite

Don’t underestimate the importance of allowing the seller to save face. Sometimes negotiations do not go the way you planned. Especially in larger clothing markets, sellers may act outraged by a low price, but keep your cool. Often, if you say something insulting, or even quote a price that is ridiculously low, the seller may decide not to sell to you at all.

Come back for more

If you know what you want and you’ve got a certain price from that stand before, sometimes you can save time by just assertively saying that price from the get-go. They see that you know, and they want to save their time too. You can also get a better deal when you buy multiple things from the same seller.

Use the ‘grumpy husband’ trick

A good one for couples who fancy trying out their acting skills. You are the irritated husband who is tired of his wife spending all his hard-earned money. You are the long-suffering wife who has to argue for every cent your husband spends on you. If the seller believes he has to convince the man who doesn’t even want to make a purchase, the price should plummet.

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