Some of us have been living in China for decades, some of us for only a week. Either way, we have all been in that situation where we need to haggle and barter for something at some point. Want that Burberry scarf, but deciding that 100 Euro seems a tad excessive? Haggle with a guy at the Pearl Market then! Do you want that new Prada bag but you are currently on an unpaid internship? Head over to Pearl market and haggle for it! Do you want to eat 串 but it feels like highway robbery since the owner will only part with them at 3rmb instead of the usual 2? (well, I suppose you don’t really need haggling for the last one, but I digress). This guide will make sure that you get the best deals and don’t get ripped off.

1. Don’t Let Them Know You’re a Tourist

I know many negotiations that begin with, “where are you from?”. If you answer any country other than China, the opposing haggler will know that you are a rich mark. A few safe answers to give can be.

Seller

Chinese: 你从哪里来?

Pinyin: Nǐ cóng nǎlǐ lái?

English: Where are you from?

You

Chinese: 我住在北京。我在这里上学。

Pinyin: Wǒ zhù zài běijīng. Wǒ zài zhèlǐ shàngxué.

English: I live in Beijing, I go to school here.

2. Always Get Them to Offer You a Price First

Whether you want a scarf or a bag, you should never offer them a price first. You always want to start negotiations with the other side giving the first figure. Often a merchant will say:

Seller

Chinese: 你说个价吧

Pinyin: Nǐ shuō gè jià ba

English: You tell me what you think it’s worth

You

Chinese:你告诉我

Pinyin: Nǐ gàosù wǒ

English: You tell me

3. Don’t Agree With Them That it Looks Good

A common trick known amongst clothing salesman is to tell you that you look good in such and such.

A merchant might say;

Seller

Chinese:你穿它非常漂亮

Pinyin: Nǐ chuān tā fēicháng piàoliang

English: You look very beautiful in it

Seller

Chinese: 太美了

Pinyin: Tàiměile

English: So beautiful

And you might very well be inclined to agree with them. Remember, however, that in haggling shops they want to figure out your bottom line. You should not let them know that you want something, even if you do want it!

You

Chinese:还可以吧

Pinyin:Hái kěyǐ ba

English: It’s alright

You

Chinese:一般般

Pinyin:Yībān bān

English: It’s So So

You

Chinese: 我看起来很胖

Pinyin: Wǒ kàn qǐlái hěn pàng

English: I look fat in it

4. Don’t Haggle For Fun

Although customs might be different in other countries, haggling in China demonstrates an intent to buy. If you simply want to browse, you are free to do so.

5. Don’t Buy At the First Stall You Visit

This might seem contradictory to suggestion 4, but it isn’t. As long as you don’t initiate the haggling, it’s alright. When you come to a market, and you see something you like, you should realize two things:

  • The stalls are organized so that all the shoe sellers are together; all the Prada sellers are together and so forth.
  • All the stalls source their goods from the same factory, and so they have the same bottom line as their neighbors. With this in mind, if you visit a stall and you see something you like, you can ask the owner for the price, and so long as you don’t give a return price, it’s okay.

You

Chinese:这个包多少钱

Pinyin: Zhège bāo duōshǎo qián

English: How much for this bag

Seller

Chinese:这个包5000元

Pinyin: Zhège bāo 5000 yuán

English: This bag is 5000 RMB

Chinese: 太贵了我可以给你500元

Pinyin: Tài guìle wǒ kěyǐ gěi nǐ 500 yuán

English: Too expensive, I can offer 500 RMB

The merchant will offer you their response price. Remember to set your own bottom line (say 1000 yuan). The merchant will offer maybe 2000 yuan. Then you respond with say 750 yuan. Somewhere when you get relatively close to your bottom line, pretend to walk out and say something along the lines of…

You

Chinese: 太贵了不想要了

Pinyin: Tài guì liǎo bùxiǎng yàole

English: Too expensive, I don’t want it.

If they cannot make a profit, they will let you go (and probably curse you and 18 generations of your ancestors, but you shouldn’t take it too seriously, you can ask me in PM what this particular insult is)

If they stop you, then congratulations, since you picked up a Prada bag at nada prices, yay.

If not, then you have an idea of what the bottom line of the merchants is. You can repeat this process at another stall selling the same product, and if the results are similar, then you should have a solid idea of what prices they will sell at. If this is still above your bottom line, you can give up the chase.

The other option is to go get a coffee, take a break, or check out another section of the shopping centre and come back in 30 minutes to the same stall you visited before and offer them your bottom line again. If they take it, yay, if not, oh well.

Think you’ve got what it takes to bargin in China? Then come join us and get your China journey started today! Want to read more on Chinee culture and the things you should know before coming to China? Check out some more article here and here!