Bargaining in China

China is a great place for shoppers. For sheer numbers and variety of retail choices, from street markets and sidewalk stands to boutique outlets and high-end malls, no country on Earth can match the Middle Kingdom.

In China, bargaining is normally acceptable in most small shops, with the exception of some modern malls, stores and supermarkets. There is no need to be nervous – bargaining at markets is part of the shopping ritual. Many products don’t have price tags in the marketplaces. The vendors will come up with a price depending on the customers, and they often charge a price much higher than the actual value of the goods. So, bargaining is expected and it is also an essential strategy for buying goods at a reasonable price.

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Bargaining is a little time-consuming and sometimes troublesome. So it is very necessary to be fully prepared.

Bargaining usually begins with the shopkeeper suggesting a price and you responding with a lower one. Sometimes you don’t know whether the asking price is reasonable or not because you don’t know how much things should cost. To get a general idea about the reasonable average price of the things you want to buy, you can firstly check online, visit some different shops and markets or ask your friends. If your Chinese is good enough, you can ask for prices at a few stalls selling the same things, or hang around for a while listening to the locals bargaining.

Secondly, try to reduce the price to 30-50 percent off the asking price and then spend some time on further negotiation. When bargaining with the sellers, stay relaxed and always polite. Be patient and unflappable to facilitate the bargaining process. Never express how much you like the things you want to buy as the sellers may use this information to raise the price. Try to find out as many flaws as possible in the products; pretend that the style, shape, color or some small details turn you off. In response, the sellers may reduce the asking price.

Thirdly, you can play the dramatic walking away game – pretend to walk away if the price proposed by the sellers is still unacceptable and exceeds your budget. Generally speaking, this skill works quite well, especially shopping for souvenirs at the markets. You’ll hear the salespeople screaming prices which get lower and lower as you get farther and farther. You can always come back if you hear an acceptable price. You get nothing to loose! Shopkeepers may look annoyed if you bargain hard. Don’t feel bad about that since looking annoyed is sometimes part of their bargaining tactics – they will never sell you something at a loss!

Fourthly, it’s advisable to shop early in the morning or before closing time. Some Chinese believe that it’s a good sign if the first customer buys something, so they will offer you a much lower price than during peak hours as a good start. Same thing goes for shopping before closing time; the shopkeepers will be too exhausted and will generally take whatever they can get without heavy bargaining as long as they make some profit.

The last but not the least, speaking some Chinese is very helpful. It will help you communicate with the local shopkeepers, at the same time you will benefit from learning some everyday Chinese phrases. The following are a few useful and powerful phrases you can use when shopping in China.

“duo shao qian (多少钱)” – How much is it?

“tai gui le (太贵了)” – That’s too expensive.

“pian yi dian (便宜点)?” – Can you make it a little cheaper?

If you could not speak any Chinese, don’t worry, a calculator will easily solve the problem – the shopkeeper and you can input the numbers in turn to indicate the price the shopkeeper wants to charge and the price you would like to pay, until you work out the price you both are satisfied with. .

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Try your bargaining skill every time you shop in markets; you may get a great price reduction and enjoy the fun and pleasure of shopping. If you are really not good at bargaining and get frustrated with it, a simple but practical advice is “Pay what you think is reasonable regardless of the asking price”.

Good luck and have fun!


1. Prices in stores are fixed, but discounts are common: they are marked by a number between 1 and 9 and the character “折”, indicating the percentage of the original price you have to pay. For example, 8折 means that the item is on sale at 80 percent of its original price.

2. It is worth looking in the smaller towns or in the places where ethnic minorities live for local products, which will be difficult to find anywhere else in China. The most usual articles on offer are craft objects for everyday use or specially worked or embroidered garments.

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