If like me and you come from a western country, haggling is not really in our nature. Yet when you are shopping you need to know how to bargain in China. Let me introduce you to the art of barter Shanghai style.
When I first visited Shanghai I knew exactly what I wanted to buy in China. I visited the Yu Yuan Garden with a Chinese guy. This is a big, open market place and very popular with tourists.
I was wary of being ripped off so I asked him to haggle the price for me on something that I wanted to buy. Then I turned up at the shop and paid the price he’d agreed. It worked 🙂
It isn’t always practical to have a friendly local help you so here is some advice.
Where you can practise how to bargain in China
As a rule the open markets or small, independent shopkeepers are the perfect place to learn how to barter in China.
If you are visiting a big chain supermarket, convenience store or restaurant then you will only have one price to pay. The listed price.
Generally in Shanghai price lists are not made available in many small shops. There are 3 unofficial price lists. Firstly there is a price for Shanghai-ese people (this is the cheapest price). Then there is a higher price for Chinese who are from outside Shanghai (they are easily identifiable from their dialects). Finally the highest price is for foreigners.
When you are interested in buying something you first ask how much. The phrase is: “Duōshao qián?”
Often the price quoted to you will be ridiculously high.
This is when you should respond with a stupidly low price, maybe a quarter of what they first quoted. You are likely to be greeted with some fantastic play acting drama at how insulted they are. Don’t worry this is all part of the game. After all it is the art of barter.
At this point the shop owner might come back to you with a marginally lower price than the one they first stated. Don’t be deterred.
You should maybe respond with saying how ridiculous their price is. If there are similar stalls around selling the same thing you can claim the other sellers could give you a much better deal.
Then make a counter offer. This should be higher than the first price you offered but still a long way short of the seller’s new price.
Then with a bit of drama you gradually make offers to each other and meet somewhere in the middle. (If you’ve spoken to people who have shopped here before you will have an idea of a potential price you could strike a deal at.)
As part of your haggling skills you should find something to help bring the price down. Point out a defect such as a scratch, poor paintwork or say if you think it is low quality. This might trigger a gasp from the seller but it is all part of the act. The shop keeper is likely to have many more of the same items in the back so they can easily replace it.
Just as you are about to close the deal don’t budge on the final negotiation.
Just walk away saying you can’t pay anymore.
You’ll then find the store owner is often likely to come chasing after you and will agree to your final offer.
In all reality the store owner has sold the item to you at a much higher price than their target price so they are really happy. As long as you have a price in mind and stick to it then you’ll be happy too.
Other travel tips to consider when shopping in China
- The first tip is to shop where the locals do. If you avoid the touristy places then immediately the shop keepers are used to haggling at a lower price.
- Do not be afraid to compare prices offered by nearby stalls. You’ll be surprised at how the sellers will remember your face if you come back an hour or two later if you tried to bargain with them.
- If you can’t find exactly the item you want just ask. The sellers can often source what you need from other stall owners quite quickly. They all seem to know each other especially in busy market places.
- Don’t let the seller see how much cash you have in your wallet before you agree a price. If they know how much you have they know what you can spend up to.
- Try to pay with the exact amount of money. If you pay more you might find your change is not quite what you expected.
- Don’t act too excited or keen to buy the item, this will work against you. If you look partially interested and as if you are happy not to buy then the seller knows they will most likely have to agree a lower price. If you frown or show a face of disgust at a price offered to you this is a worthy skill.
- Try to use the odd Chinese phrase when greeting or in discussion with the vendor. This will work in your favour and leave them thinking you’ve had some experience of shopping in China. As a result you will not be such an easy target for them.
“Duōshao qián?” is the phrase for “How much is it?”
“Tài guì le” means “too expensive”.
“Xie Xie” is Chinese for “Thank You”
If you struggle with Mandarin/Chinese and they struggle with English, don’t worry. The shop owner will often have a calculator handy to indicate prices whilst you barter in China.
If you get to a point where the seller will not budge any further on price then you’ve reached their target price. They will not go any lower. Either accept the price or walk away. If you didn’t buy it at the price you wanted you can always try a different shop selling the same thing.
Smile. Yes a little warm smile or playful joke during the bartering session lightens the mood. It is also likely to make the shop keeper like you more and be more willing to lower the price. After all the smile doesn’t cost you anything.
With these tips you will know how to bargain in China with confidence.