Tips for Bargaining in China

by Chelsea on January 9, 2013

Bargaining in China at times can be a daunting task

Bargaining in China can seem a daunting task at times

Holiday shopping this year got me thinking about bargaining and the various strategies people use in China to make sure they get the best deal possible.

In most places in this country, you can haggle for pretty much anything – bus tickets, meals, rent, taxi rides, gym memberships, a leather jacket at a nice department store, you name it.

Here are five bargaining tactics you can try out for yourself when you are shopping at the markets in China.

We'd also love to hear from our readers. So please share your personal tips in the comments below!

  1. The Aloof Attitude

    I generally use the casual “I’m just browsing” strategy. I made the mistake once of literally jumping up and down when I found something I’d been looking for all day. That was of course a mistake. The vendor knew she could charge me whatever she wanted.

    In my experience, if I pick something up and seriously consider it for a few moments, but then keep moving as if I don’t want it, the vendor will start offering lower and lower prices until I give in and agree to buy the item.

    If it goes right: They can see you want it, but know you don’t want it enough to pay a high price. In the end, you get what you want for a low price.

    If it goes wrong: They actually think you don’t want it. Whoops!

  2. The Walk Away

    Chinese meat market

    Pigs feet, side of beef... You can bargain for anything in China!

    This is exactly what it sounds like. You start bargaining and then when the price isn’t getting to where you want, you dramatically walk away. Don’t hesitate – own that walk. This usually results in the vendor giving in to your suggested price. At the very least it should give you a good idea of what the vendor's threshold is.

    If it goes right: You walk away, and the vendor yells out “ok, ok” to your price and you go back, both smile and chuckle at the silliness of the whole scene. They get paid, and you get what you want.

    If it goes wrong: You cause a bit of a scene and you don’t get what you want, and it might be slightly embarrassing. But it’s all part of the process! If they don't follow you then you know the price you were asking was too low. Use this information to your advantage with the next vendor!

  3. The Defect

    Usually a fail-safe strategy is to point out something wrong with the product. Tell them the quality doesn’t seem great, you suspect it’ll break easily, the stitching is shoddy, the color looks faded, anything!

    If it goes right: They will eventually lower the price.

    If it goes wrong: They will feel offended that you questioned the quality of their product and to save face they refuse to lower the price and keep assuring you of the high quality.

  4. The Local/Poor Student (if you speak some Chinese)

    Bartering for rugs in the Chinese countryside

    Bartering for rugs in the Chinese countryside

    If you speak Chinese, you can try out bargaining in the Mandarin. Depending on which city you’re in, the vendors are usually impressed. You can say you've lived there for a while and know that the price is too expensive. You can also say that you are still a student learning Chinese and can’t afford the high prices. Beware however of the vendor trying to use this against you by quoting an exorbitantly high price and telling you that's the foreigner price followed by a slightly lower price because "wo men shi peng you" (we are friends).

    If it goes right: They like locals and give you a local price. They empathize with you for being a poor student and give you a lower price.

    If it goes wrong: I’ve heard of the occasional vendor who thinks that speaking too much in Chinese is showing off, and doesn’t want to lower the price. Sometimes saying you’re a poor students get no pity. You’re still a foreigner to them, and therefore you can still afford it.

  5. The Comparison

    If the vendor quotes a price you think is too high, you can say you saw the same product for less money somewhere else (“but the woman down there had it for XYZ amount!). Or you can say your friend told you she got it for XYZ amount.

    If it goes right: You get the price you want, of course.

    If it goes wrong: The vendor will say the other place with the cheaper price must be lower quality and their product is better. Or they will say that you must be confused, your friend must have gotten the product somewhere else!

And now we turn it over to you! What tips do you have for bargaining in China? Any success stories where you got away with a great deal? Maybe a time when the vendor got the best of you. Let us know in the comments!

  • Rob

     The ideal move is to engage in loud and vigorous haggling. Use Chinese numbers as much as you can. Start at a ridiculously low price, maybe 5% of what they ask, and prepare that amount in your pocket, or out of sight. Become louder and more animated as you edge your price up, try to be as loud as the Chinese person (but that’s impossible). Attempt to draw a crowd with your antics. Ask bystanders if it’s a fair price, draw them into it. Try to get other tourists involved. Ask them to point out flaws in the product. Once you are within 5% of meeting what the vendor has come down to, pause…. consider… then loudly go back to your original price. The vendor will completely lose their mind, boggle their eyes and scream that number at the top of their lungs. Immediately accept that price. Slam the money down on the counter and grab the item. Instantly demand agreement from the crowd that the vendor actually said that number. The vendor will be humiliated but will cave in to peer pressure that they did in fact say that number. Quickly leave.

    This strategy is known as “Fuck me? No, fuck you.”

    • Buck

      The tricked becomes the tricker! Doesn’t help make the case for foreigners in China though unfortunately. 

  • Félix Gervais

    ” In most places in this country, you can haggle for pretty much anything –
    bus tickets, meals, rent, taxi rides, gym memberships, a leather jacket
    at a nice department store, you name it.”


  • Annie

    I’d also suggest establishing a rapport with vendors — then you can turn the women shi pengyou claims back on them!

    • Buck

      Definitely a good one! Pretty much every vendor in China has a card with their stall number on it too so you can easily track them down for your next purchase.

  • Amy

    I always try do all my exchanges with a smile. You still stand firm and demonstrate that you know the price, but if you do it smiling it adds confidence and diffuses any bad attitude the vendor might think you have or you might have created from being too aloof. Ultimately, it’s nicer doing business with someone who has a positive face, especially in a sea of negative ones. And who knows, you might actually make someone temporarily feel like a human being rather than a cheat who’s only out to get money.

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